Author Archives: rpltheresa

My 32 years as a Readers’ Advisory Librarian

Where did 32 years of being a Readers’ Advisory Librarian go? I know exactly where they went. They took refuge in that beautiful, solitary place we call Book-Land. Because it’s almost always a solitary pursuit at first, reading. It’s the sharing part that takes us into unpredictable territory. Will this customer like my suggestions?  Or will they stand there looking bored, saying: “Read it…Read it…Read it” and leave me hanging, mouth agape, fresh out of scintillating suggestions?

Once a Readers’ Advisory librarian, always a Readers’ Advisory Librarian. Call us what you will. Give us promotions and new job titles. We are still, at our core, Readers’ Advisory librarians. (You can tell the reverence I have for them by the CAPS.)

Starting my career as a Children’s Librarian was a good entrée into Readers’ Advisory. Kids don’t always know it, but their questions – “I want a funny book” or “I want a scary book” – usually direct librarians to a specific author, or at least give us a clue about what they like and don’t like. Fast forward 10 or 20 years and that same customer is now asking for humorous fiction or suspense thrillers. The tricky part is figuring out exactly what it is about those authors or genres that draws them in. Then finding the perfect book for them.

Enter Google, stage left. Or stage right, depending on your political leanings. Here is one inescapable observation I know to be true: readers have, for several years now, turned to Google, not librarians, for their Readers’ Advisory questions. I rarely get a customer now who thinks I or my colleagues know more than Google when it comes to giving advice about books.

Spoiler Alert: Librarians definitely know more. Sure, Google works in a pinch, like when you’ve never read a particular author for whom your customer wants a read-alike. Or when you’re having a ‘senior moment’, like I do these days. Often.

Say what you will about the Internet. Nothing beats the feel-good experience of having a Readers’ Advisory librarian lead you to the display walls or the stacks and start picking out books she/he thinks you’ll like, based on your tastes. And then giving you short little synopses – your own personal book talk. There’s a bit of chat happening, a bit of casual investigation, and a LOT of relationship-building going on. Next thing you know, the customer’s searching you out week after week asking for reading suggestions. And bringing you home-made carrot cake. And that’s how it’s done.

I learned something valuable years ago: almost everything in life can be reduced to the five Ws and the H of a press release – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Apply that formula to Readers’ Advisory and you get this:

  • Who is your customer?
  • What are they really asking for?
  • When is it the right time to offer reading suggestions?
  • Where is the best place to find what they want?
  • Why do they like certain authors/genres and not others?
  • How can I get a customer excited about a new book?

Back in the dark ages, when Richmond Public Library had a big, beautiful dedicated Readers’ Advisory desk, I was in my glory. Sure, I would also have to answer plebeian questions like where‘s the bathroom and what time is Storytime. But mainly, customers came to me and my colleagues with a certainty that we could lead them to the perfect book. Each and every time. Funny thing was, even when we couldn’t find exactly the right book for them, we managed to make it a meaningful connection anyway.

Working right across the plaza from a Seniors’ Centre, Richmond Public Library served a lot of elderly customers. And more often than not, for that 80-year-old man or woman who came to the RA desk this was their only social interaction of the week. And they were mighty grateful.

During those good old days I became a “codger magnet”. Or so my colleagues dubbed me. Apparently a 37-year-old librarian who wears leopard print dresses was considered a hot young thing by men over 75. And they were mighty grateful. For the RA help, that is.

Actually, I think those old guys sometimes used to make up random RA questions just so they could talk to me. Now I know that sounds boastful, but…well…I have the stories to prove it. I remember a couple of my favourite old guys would bring me gifts. Regularly. One brought me the New Yorker magazine every week because I once told him I love reading it but I’m too cheap to buy it. Another one used to bring me paintings he’d done. Then there was the shy, highly educated old guy who saw me wearing a hot pink turtleneck one day. I’ll never forget this. He said to me, in a hushed tone: “Nobody should be allowed to wear pink but you.”

I think that was the most romantic thing a man has ever said to me. Ever.

And all that because of a little Readers’ Advisory.

by Shelley Civkin, Communications Officer by name, Readers’ Advisory Librarian at heart

Thinking Outside the (Book) Box – The Menfolk

My Readers’ Advisory experience is a little different in that I serve a homebound population with hardcover, Large Type, and Audiobooks. Upon intake interviews, customers are queried as to their genre interests and favourite authors. I think that that is fairly standard practice for RA. I’d like to talk about times that I took a chance and didn’t follow the safe path, with surprisingly positive results.

I often had difficulty picking appropriate titles for older men, as they seemed to be reticent about discussing their reading interests. I tried the go-to choices of Clancy and his read-alikes, but they were sent back with notes saying “no more.” One would think that guys would like war stories, espionage, but most of my customers don’t care for it. Why would they? They had lived it, seen it in person or on TV, and have no desire to revisit bloody human conflict. However, they all love legal drama – persuasion and argument, the battle of wits, clear-thinking over emotion. Hint – there seem to be few authors writing in this field, so if you know some literate lawyers, tell them it’s time to write the great Canadian novel!

I was flummoxed with what to do when the Grishams and Grippandos ran out. Desperate to fill an order one day, I threw in The Eighty- Dollar Champion, a gripping true story of a nag that became a star. Well, my customer’s wife said that he loved it, that he had trained horses in his youth, that it brought it all back to him, and he had been entranced.

Reliving experiences! I started thinking about common experiences that were positive and enjoyable as a touchstone for reading choices. For many men, especially those growing up in rural areas, having a dog was a great time in their lives. There are so many wonderful doggy stories and memoirs out there! And speaking of rural areas – farm stories! Expanding on that… Farley Mowat, Canadiana, adventure stories.  For the pure enjoyment of audiobook customers, there’s an amazing amount of “olde time” radio out there that’s sure to bring back dear memories of family times.

When we think of men’s reading choices, we tend to focus on the darker points of the ecclesiastical verse: a time to kill; a time to tear down. I think our older adult male readers might on occasion be better served by finding reading choices that are about a time to heal, a time to build.  Whether it be about a dog serving as a needed companion to a wayward boy, or the power of a man’s hard work in making a home, these reads are sure to satisfy.

by Marion, Library Technician

Behind the headlines: books on climate change

Last month, the world’s largest-ever climate demonstration took place in New York City. 300,000 people took to the streets to demand action on global warming as world leaders were gathering for UN climate talks. Despite the failure of the Kyoto protocol, nations will meet again in Paris next year to try and hammer out a new carbon-cutting agreement.


With climate change on the front pages, and Naomi Klein’s new bookThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate climbing bestseller lists, there may be readers looking to get up to speed on the issues. For a scientist’s list of recommended books, check out the National Geographic ScienceBlogs website. For a few more suggestions, read on.

To date, most nations’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gases have heatbeen in the single digits. In 2006’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, George Monbiot argues that the richest countries would need to make cuts of 90 percent by 2030 to avoid a “critical threshold” of warming (2°C according to the United Nations). Beyond that, he says, the collapse of climate-regulating ecosystems such as the permafrost will cause warming to spiral out of control. Heat is a meticulously researched, sector-by-sector “thought experiment” in how cuts of this magnitude could be achieved. Monbiot paints a picture of a near-future where air travel and private automobiles are all but eliminated, fleets of trucks deliver goods to households, and solar energy flows from the Sahara.

A very different approach is found in the award-winning Why We Disagree About whywedisagreeClimate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity by Michael Hulme. A geographer, climate modeller, and contributor to the UN panel on climate change, Hulme’s view is that climate problems are too complex to be “solved” and must instead be lived with. He looks at the cultural as well as the scientific phenomenon and what it reveals about different ideas and beliefs about living in the world. Consciously non-alarmist in tone, Hulme has been praised for not over-simplifying the issues while making them accessible to a wide audience.

Canadian writers who’ve weighed in on climate change include the Globe and Mail’s hotairJeffrey Simpson and SFU professors Marc Jaccard and Nic Rivers. Their book, Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Challenge, calls for taxing to reduce emissions and placing a greater emphasis on sustainable development. In The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the geographyofhopeWorld We Need, Alberta journalist Chris Turner eloquently describes alternative energy projects already in existence: from adobe-style homes that stay cool in summer and warm in winter, to water-wheels creating hydro-electricity for Thai villagers, to Germany’s eco-friendly housing re-build. Turner’s book is an eye-opening and, yes, hopeful addition to the discussion that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.

by Haidee O’Brien, Librarian at Richmond Public Library

A reflection on reading

I did something this summer for only the second time in my life; I finished a novel by reading it from the first to the final page. I had accomplished this same feat once before using dailylit’s email system. As a reader, I find myself frequently flipping ahead, impatient to have questions or problems resolved, regardless of how compelling I find the story to be. The novel that I completed is irrelevant; what struck me was the format of the book; it was my first attempt at using an e-reader.  The experience led me to reflect on how this personal discovery could inform my readers advisory interactions in the future.

In the past when library members have asked for recommendations I have focused exclusively on print versions of materials that could meet their interests. On occasion I might have searched for a title, and somewhat apologetically indicated that an e-version was available; would that be an option? Now, in response to what I believe e-books might have to offer readers, I hope to have a more robust discussion – about their reading experiences and styles. Some questions might include:

  1. Do you read books from start to finish? Or, do you flip ahead in novels?

  2. Do you re-read books? Would you be willing to try re-reading something in e-format?

  3. Have you tried reading in a different genre?

  4. Would you consider trying to read an ebook? (This presumes that the library patron either has access to their own computer or tablet, or that your library system has implemented a lending program)

Not all readers will be interested in discussing their reading styles and biases, but for those who are, I believe ebooks will provide a further opportunity to explore, and perhaps change, established habits. For readers like me there might be an opportunity to read a book from start to finish, or to try short stories, or to try re-reading in e-format as the physical experience might change the reading experience. Perhaps it will be easier to try new genres – when you don’t know have the physical reminder of how much is left to read perhaps you can focus more on the words that are in front of you.  I realised that a change in format resulted in a change of reading style – so, go wild! Challenge yourself to try a different reading style – if you have never flipped ahead, give it a try!

Submitted by Jennifer Wilson, Librarian at Richmond Public Library