Organizing an RA Workshop at Library School

Last autumn, a number of fellow library school students and I decided to organize a Readers’ Advisory Workshop for SLAIS students. This was in response to feedback from our peers regarding the lack of Readers’ Advisory education in our classrooms, and a desire to develop some knowledge and skills on our own. We decided to focus on some basic topics that we were interested in learning about and sharing, as well as what we thought would appeal to our potential participants.

Ask Your Readers Advisor - Newton Free Library

Image from Newton Public Library, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My collaborators included members of various student groups at UBC: ALA Student Chapter, BCLA/CLA Student Chapter, UBC Librarians without Borders, SLA @ SLAIS, and YAACS @ UBC. Our workshop took place in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC, on the traditional, unceded territory of the Musqueam people.

Despite the fact that we held a two-hour workshop at the end of a busy semester, we had a really great turn-out of students who were willing to take a break from their end-of-term workload and talk about Readers’ Advisory and books with us.

Lightning Talks

The organizers contributed lightning talks on different RA topics:

  • Intro to RA Basics, including a brief history of RA, read-alikes & appeal factors
  • Types of RA, such as direct & indirect
  • RA resources, including a Novelist demonstration
  • Adult Literacy Levels
  • Diversity and RA
  • RA for early, late, and intermediate age children
  • RA for adolescents and young adults

(We admit that a few of us attended RAIG’s 2015 RA in a Day, and were inspired by the Adult Literacy Levels discussion and Dr. Brenna Clarke Gray’s keynote on Diverse Reading!)

Genre Roundtable

Each of the organizers prepared a quick introduction to a genre, including why people like to read it, and some important titles to know. We took a tour through Mystery, Fantasy, Feminist Memoirs, and Romance. We encouraged our participants to feel free to discuss a genre they were interested in, too! While acknowledging that it wasn’t a genre, one of our participants shared some of her experiences and recommended resources on providing LGBTQIA+ RA service.

Some of the takeaways from our genre discussions included:

  • The importance of incorporating diversity in our reading and our recommendations. Sometimes we need to make the effort to seek out diverse genre lit, and avoid simply falling back on “classics” of the genre, which are likely not diverse.
  • The surprising number of sub-genres that we didn’t know existed (cozy mysteries!) and the confusion of blurring genres (where does fantasy end and sci-fi begin?).
  • Discussion of what “genre” means, and how broader themes and topics like LGBTQIA+ can become confused with genre.

Bookslam Demo and Recommendation Hour

We had hoped to conclude with an informal bookslam demonstration and a reading recommendation exchange, in order to practice booktalking and recommendation skills. We’d even encouraged participants to bring a recently read book or a favourite book with them. Unfortunately, we ran out of time!

Reflections and Opportunities

  • Organizing and facilitating a two-hour workshop was only possible with the help and collaboration of all of the organizers. Thanks, everyone!!
  • We provided snacks and drinks, which were vital sources of sustenance during our  two-hour discussion.
  • We tried to build interactive sections into the workshop, and unfortunately we ran out of time before we were able to get to the recommendations part (the bookslam and booktalking). I would definitely try to build that more cohesively into the workshop next time, as we were dissappointed to miss out on that interactive element.
  • Our participants brought really great ideas, experiences, and questions with them, which spoke to the interest and enthusiasm for learning and practicing RA. I hope to see more events in the future, and I encourage students in MLIS and Lib Tech programs to develop their own RA events.

Chloe Riley is the SLAIS student representative on the Readers’ Advisory Interest Group. She’s currently a student in the MLIS program at SLAIS, and works at the Vancouver Public Library.

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