RA On the Spot: Take Help Where You Can Get It!

VPL’s first blog entry for the month of March is written by Tim McMillan, Acting Branch Manager for Fraserview Branch.

Sometimes, in the heat of a readers’ advisory interaction you’ll take help wherever you can get it!

Readers’ advisory is a core aspect of the the librarian’s job. Ask a member of the public what they think a librarian does and chances are they will offer some iteration of “recommend good books.” So the expectation that we can find the right book for the right person is integral to our image, yet many of us, myself included, don’t have the time to read as widely as we’re expected to: E.L. James anyone? Which James Patterson book came first: Double Cross or Cross Fire? I confess that I’ve never picked up a Debbie Macomber or Mary Balogh title. So without knowing much about these authors or their respective oeuvres how does one quickly satisfy a reader’s desire to br recommended something like X?

Many posters have highlighted the excellent readers’ advisory resources that our institutions offer: NoveList; continuing education and workshops; peer support and staff suggestions. In addition to these “high-brow” tools I have often had occasion to make use of a number of ubiquitous online resources that are often avoided due to their unprofessional or “low-brow” connotations. Wikipedia; Amazon.ca or .com; and even the dreaded Google may have a circumstance-dependent place in the repertoire of reader’s advisory tools.

There are prolific authors and then there are James Patterson and Nora Roberts. Without having read their titles, I am at a loss when asked “do you have the book after X?” or “does series Y come before series Z?” In many instances the bibliographic records in our catalogues won’t  have this level of detail presented and so we rely on publication dates or other contextual clues to help us quickly respond. In these instances I found that recourse to Wikipedia has served me well. For example, James Patterson has a dizzying array of series, cross-overs and tie-ins. At the bottom of his biographic entry on Wikipedia, the compiler has done a credible job with the interminable Patterson bibliography. This tactic is equally sound for demystifying the catalogue of other authors whose avid fanbase will keep interest in their many works high despite their sheer volume of titles.

Both the Canadian Amazon.ca and the American Amazon.com also have a place in a reference or readers’ advisory encounter where you’re caught flatfooted. I’ve had recourse to the former often enough when a library user asks when an upcoming title will be released as it will display the date of publication in Canada. The “wisdom of the crowds” features have their use as well: Customers Who Bought This Item Bought This and Customer Reviews are the types of crowd-source features public library catalogues are looking to replicate and can help you out in a pinch.

Finally, there is Google. I would die of embarassment if the person I was helping caught me plugging in an author or book title into the world-conquering search bar. I shouldn’t be so ashamed. The biggest asset to readers’ advisory that I’ve found from the search bar is its ability to correct my mistakes, a problem that happens all too often when a young person tells me a word or two from a series title they like or just the first name of an author who they have to read for class. For the first time in my professional library career I found myself thankful to Messers. Sergey Brin and Larry Page when Google helped me decipher a young boy’s interest in “Geniusno Stilter”. A quick redirect to the Geronimo Stilton website and my pint-sized patron began pointing at the upcoming titles in the series and nodding enthusiastically: “thats Geniusno Stilter!”

This little tour of readers’ advisory cheats in not intended to denigrate the value of our printed author bibliogrpahies and directories of publications. Instead, it may provide some cues as to when these resources may prove useful in a pinch. So amazooglewiki away dear reader, your pallete of readers’ advisory tools just became a little more egalitarian.

Tim McMillian, Librarian

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