Academic Theory vs. the Real World
The BCLA What R U Reading blog is meant to be a Readers’ Advisory toolkit for librarians. With this in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to write as a recent MLIS graduate about how I do RA and what tools I use. My hope is that this post is helpful for library students, other new graduates, and even those who have been out of library school for a while. As a keen reader, it is interesting to reflect on what guides my reading and my RA.
For my own interest, and hopefully yours, (and because I burnt out on theory at library school), this post will be more practical than theoretical and hopefully useful. Posting as a recent grad has allowed me to reflect on the differences between academic theory and what was taught in library school and real world, on the job RA.
One thing that I noticed right away on the job, is that RA is much more complex, interesting, and relational than they tell you in library school. But this is only true if you are willing to engage in conversations, relationships, and a variety of materials, genres, and formats. In discussing my blog post topic with some librarians from a few different library systems, the overall feeling amongst them seemed to be that their work off-desk is so time and energy consuming that they do not often have enough time to invest in RA. This includes both doing RA with patrons and having the time to stay current with RA resources and trends.
There are many tips that are worth mentioning and the following are only a few recommendations. Make your reading pool deep and wide, and ask for recommendations from patrons and other staff who you know read avidly and widely. Check your library’s (and even other libraries) website for new titles, especially if you are at a branch where you are only seeing materials intended for your branch and the collection is fixed rather than floating. Pay attention to current media that may influence reading patterns and trends, (ex. The Great Gatsby & The Hunger Games being released on film) try to anticipate what patrons interests will be and find read-a-likes/watch-a-likes/listen-a-likes. Pay attention to holds lists, Fastreads, and what is circulating highly in your system.
“Can you recommend a good book on…?”
Take special notice of the genres that you gravitate away from and make an extra effort to read a selection of those titles (especially popular ones). This will help you to avoid some biases when doing RA (which patrons ALWAYS pick up on). Work to understand the appeal factors of each genre: pacing, characterization, story line, and frame.
Really listen to patrons RA questions and do not assume that because they read one genre, they will or will not enjoy others. Ask patrons what the last book they have read is and what they thought of it? Or what was the last book that they really enjoyed? Another tactic that I use is to ask patrons what their favourite books is/favourite genre/top 5 favourite titles. The most effective practice that I use currently is to browse the shelves with patrons or grab a few items off of the shelf and ask their thoughts/opinions. I find this really effective in making the process active, engaging, casual, and conversational.
Online resources are readily available and (generally) free. It’s a matter of finding the online resources that appeal to you and that are useful, current, and reputable. The following are some that I have found helpful.
• Awards, Prizes, Notable Lists
o The Pulitzer Prizes http://www.pulitzer.org/
o New York Times Bestseller Lists http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/overview.html
o The Man Booker Prize – Literary fiction http://www.themanbookerprize.com/
• Related to Genres:
o Barry Awards from Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine http://www.deadlypleasures.com/barry.html
o Bram Stoker Awards – Horror http://www.horror.org/stokers.htm
o Romance Writers of American – Honor Roll http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=624
o The Hugo Awards – for Science Fiction http://www.thehugoawards.org/
• Book Clubs/Reading Groups/Discussion
o Book Club Resource – http://www.book-clubs-resource.com/
o Harper Collins Reading Groups – http://www.harpercollins.com/Readers/readingGroups.aspx
o Oprah’s Book Club http://www.oprah.com/book_club.html
• Listservs – subscribe daily or weekly
o The Reader’s Advisor Online
o Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
o Comics Worth Reading
o The Horn Book
o Library Journal
o Oprah Magazine
o Publisher’s Weekly
o Quill & Quire
o School Library Journal
o What Should I Read Next
o Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)
• Social Networking
o Facebook – Books I Read App
Readers’ Advisory is a complex and fascinating aspect of librarianship that is in constant flux, now more than ever. It is exciting and challenging to consider how we are currently practicing RA and how we will continue to expand and improve RA services to support our library users.
Sarah Isbister, Public Services Librarian, GVPL