As a newly minted library technician in a public library system, I’ve spent the better half of my summer learning the ropes on how to provide reference services to a variety of patrons. It’s been a wonderful and continuous learning experience. But when it comes to readers’ advisory, a majority of the patrons that I’ve helped have been children, largely in part due to the Summer Reading Club. I should probably note that I LOVE recommending kids books, but I noticed that my experiences with recommending adult reads were few and rare.
Most often my adult patrons would ask for specific titles and authors they had in mind. As regular readers, they’re set in their ways and have done their research. But, one glorious evening, I had a patron who asked me to recommend some titles with basically zero guidelines. I was given FREE REIGN. She mentioned that she just recently got back into reading and the last titles she read were The Girl on the Train and the Hunger Games series. Aside from those books, she hasn’t done much leisure reading in the last ten years or so. I’m not going to lie, I was stoked, quite possibly overcome with so many titles, but also super nervous… What if the titles I recommended ended up being terrible and thus putting a damper on her reading experience or even her library experience? (I hope you’re picturing that scene in Spiderman where Uncle Ben tells Peter with great responsibility comes great power… But you know copyrights prevent me from inserting an image of said scene :D.)
I did a little more investigation into what she was hoping to find and here was her criteria:
- Something light/fast paced for the summer
- Open to romance, but not have it be the prime focus
- Something that might captivate her as a reader
Again, so much room to explore and so many possible book recommendations! But what I noticed with my initial suggestions (the ones that jumped to mind instantly) was that none were actually available in the library at the time. So instead of mindlessly searching the cataloguing for books that were available, I took a walk through fiction with my patron.
I found that being able to physically scan the shelves and pick up books helped build a better relationship. I saw titles I read and/or recognized and I was able to give her a variety of options. But I also convinced her to put holds on several other titles that I thought would be meaningful to her reading journey such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half the Yellow Sun. By the end of our encounter, she left with three books and holds on three more.
I’d like to consider this to be my first real form of adult RA-ing in a library and it genuinely was a rewarding and memorable experience. So what do you do when you’re asked for open-ended recommendations? What do you do when your go-to titles aren’t readily available? What are some other challenges or tips that you’d like to share?
Stephanie Hong is an Information Services Technician at Surrey Libraries