Category Archives: RA Questions

MythBusters: Readers’ Advisory Edition

Hint: Answer to all questions is sign up for RA in a Half Day!

For new library staff, or even those out of practice Readers’ Advisory can seem like a practice shrouded in mystery, especially as we watch our colleagues pull brilliant ideas from the crystal balls that seem to reside in their brains.

Crystal Ball Shaped DisplayMyth#1: Patrons walk into the library with one book in mind. You just need to guess it.

Contrary to the wily charms of books like The Novel Cure we all know that as complicated human beings there are several books which would “cure” our curiosities and satiate our appetite for narrative at any point in time.

To get away from this notion the Ohio Library Council has an online module focused on Readers’ Advisory which emphasizes the process over the result. The Ontario Public Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Committee has also developed core competencies which include Reader Service Skills and the Readers’ Advisory Conversation. Moral of the story? It’s about the conversation not the book they leave with.

The Novel Cure

Myth#2: You need to read piles and piles of books to be good at Readers’ Advisory.

While most librarians are indeed readers, contrary to popular belief we may spend our time outside of the library doing things other than, well reading. And thanks to some amazing tools we don’t have to spend every waking minute with our noses in books, making us, well more interesting people.

Still need something to read? Here’s an exhaustive list of RA resources from OCLC’s Webjunction, as well as the list of tools from last year’s RA in a Half Day.

Myth#3: You’re either born with awesome Readers’ Advisory skills or you’re not.

False! We think RA skills can be developed and develop them we shall at RA in a Half Day. Get inspired by our keynote speakers David Wright and Max Wyman, learn from some serious local genre experts and then put it to the test with our difficult RA questions.

Now that all your Readers’ Advisory myths have been busted, we hope to see you on Oct. 30th to learn, practice and maybe even conjure up some RA skills. No crystal balls allowed.

Read Between the Lines – Form-Based Readers’ Advisory


Form-based Readers’ Advisory has been gaining steam in public libraries. I heard buzz about Seattle Public Library’s Your Next 5 Books so when I got the chance to learn about it straight from the source at The Beyond Hope Conference in Prince George this June, I was excited.

Seattle public librarian David Wright gave a fascinating presentation on SPL’s straightforward and very successful forms-based RA. They researched the Williamsburg Regional Library’s form-based RA and decided the form was a bit lengthy for their users so they shortened it to a one page form. From June 1, 2011 to June 1, 2013, Your Next 5 Books generated over 3000 personalized reading lists carefully selected by 10 librarians.

In addition to the form, they offer Facebook RA Days intermittently in which they ask the public for RA questions over a period of a few hours and follow up with personalized recommendations.

David Wright will be joining us as a Keynote at our RA in a Half Day event at Vancouver Public Library on Oct 30 so please register today!

I had the chance to learn more about form-based RA by enrolling in an ALA webinar on Aug 7 entitled Rethinking Readers’ Advisory: An Interactive Approach by Rebecca Howard and Laura Raphael. This webinar has since been expanded into a six-week eCourse starting Nov 4, 2013.

The brief webinar gave me lots of food for thought and I’m sure the six-week online course will help you answer the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of Form-based RA? How can you make a case for it at your library
  • What length of form should you use?
  • What questions should you ask?
  • Who should be on your RA team?
  • What are the key components of a final form?
  • How do you manage workflow?

According to Howard and Raphael, the 3 parts of every good form should:

  • Ask about favourite books or authors
  • Ask about the main focus or appeal
  • Ask about their preferred genre

The next 3 parts should:

  • Determine their current reading mood
  • Determine what topics are verboten to them
  • Determine what books and authors they do not like


The Tulsa City-County Library has its own form-based RA service entitled Your Next Great Read. The library has also created an RA course specially for their staff. You can take a look at it too. 

If you have questions about form-based RA or ANY aspect of RA, bring your questions to RA in a Half Day on October 30.

RA to Adult Learners

When doing RA, one of the hardest groups to serve are adults who are either learning English as a second language, or native speakers with low literacy skills. People who are new to reading are often intimidated by libraries, so If you are lucky enough to actually get asked about what to read from one of these adults,  you want to be prepared with some good go-to choices! Complicating matters is the lack of authors who write adult-themed books in a high-interest/low-vocabulary style. Luckily, in recent years several publishers have started filling the gaps in this area, notably Good Reads (Grass Roots Press), Quick Reads (Orion), Rapid Reads (Orca) and Oxford Bookworms. Often the books are not just scaled-back versions of popular works, but original fiction and non-fiction written by well known authors specifically for this target audience.PMPL book club

While these books can be expensive relative to other paperbacks, they are still an affordable way to reach a population that is traditionally underserved by public libraries. In the Tri-Cities, the Port Moody Public Library, Coquitlam Public Library, and Terry Fox Library (FVRL) are each running a monthly book group for adult learners, with book sets shared between the three library systems. These are some of the titles we’ve found particularly stimulating for discussion with our participants:

Easy MoneyEasy Money by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. You wouldn’t usually think of finance and budgeting as a fun topic of conversation, but this one surprised us. Our ESL participants were especially interested in talking about how Canadian banks work, credit cards, etc., and Vaz-Oxlade’s perspective as an immigrant to Canada herself is highly relatable.  Money is universal!

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Available in abridged form in a couple of different reading levels and formats, this title is great for groups with varying reading abilities. It also serves as an introduction to Canadian culture and history, with an easy tie-in to movie and tv versions.

ListenListen by Frances Atani. This story about the children of deaf parents resonated with a lot of our ESL participants whose own children often have to translate for them in Canadian society.

Coyotes songCoyote’s Song by Gayle Anderson-Dargatz. An engaging story with elements of native spiritualism.

GenerationGeneration Us: The Challenge of Global Warming by Andrew Weaver. Topical and a good conversation starter. Easy to tie in with newspaper articles, magazines, websites.

Incidentally, sometimes just mixing these titles into a display, especially in summer when people are looking for a “quick read”, they often get picked up by readers of all levels.

Personalized Online RA

An interesting webinar is coming up August 7 from ALA: Rethinking Readers’ Advisory: An Interactive Approach. Check out this kind of service at VPEditionsWorkshop200x300L’s “Books Just for You” and Seattle Public Library’s “Your Next 5 Books“.

Rethinking Readers’ Advisory: An Interactive Approach (ALA Editions Workshop)
A 90-minute workshop, Wednesday, August 7, 2:30pm Eastern/1:30 Central/12:30 Mountain/11:30am Pacific

By using a form-based approach to Readers’ Advisory, librarians can develop RA services that are more efficient and more responsive to patrons’ needs. Do you want to connect with your readers on a deeper level than displays and general book lists? Do you find yourself experiencing the patron-asks-for-reading-suggestion-and-mind-goes-blank phenomenon during an in-person readers’ advisory interview? Form-based readers’ advisory might be the answer. Join us for an overview of this exciting RA model, from start (getting administrative and staff buy-in) to finish (building forms and training staff members).

Topics include:

  • Why form-based readers’ advisory will help you better serve your library’s readers
  • What form-based RA is
  • Making the case to your library leaders
  • Crafting forms
  • How to assemble and train your form-based RA team
  • The finished product—a personalized reading guide

Anthea Goffe, Community Librarian, Fraser Valley Regional Library

Readers’ Advisory from a Newbie Keener

ra_1Academic 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

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
o New York Times Bestseller Lists
o The Man Booker Prize – Literary fiction

• Related to Genres:

o Barry Awards from Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine
o Bram Stoker Awards – Horror
o Romance Writers of American – Honor Roll
o The Hugo Awards – for Science Fiction

• Book Clubs/Reading Groups/Discussion

o Book Club Resource –
o Harper Collins Reading Groups –
o Oprah’s Book Club

• Listservs – subscribe daily or weekly

o Fiction_L
o NoveList
o Nextreads

• Blogs

o The Reader’s Advisor Online
o Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
o Comics Worth Reading
o Harlequin

• Websites

o Booklist
o The Horn Book
o Library Journal
o Oprah Magazine
o Overbooked
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 Goodreads
o Shelfari
o Facebook – Books I Read App
o Twitter

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


Magazines & RA

When you have over six hundred titles on offer but are located in a low-traffic area, what do you do to bring magazines and patrons together?  Here at the Central Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, we have implemented a number of different marketing strategies to promote our magazine collection to the public and help people find their next great magazine:

“Magazine of the Month”
Each month a new title is chosen and a display created to help highlight titles that are unique or that patrons may not know about. Who knew there was a magazine devoted just to stain glass windows? The title is announced through the library’s Twitter account and Facebook page.

Cross-Promotional Shelf Signage
As a way of drawing patrons to the magazine department while browsing the bookshelves, we created cross-promotional signs. These simple “If you like…” signs that let a patron know that the library also has magazines on the subject they are looking for and if they like a particular magazine, others that exist on the same subject. These signs are located both on the magazine shelves (the magazines are shelved alphabetically rather than by subject) and throughout the main book collection.

“Staff Picks”
With so many titles to choose from, sometimes it’s nice to have someone offer some suggestions. These magazines are displayed in clear plexiglass holders at the end of one of the magazine shelves and are for browsing in library or checking out.

If they are relevant to the subject, magazines are included in book displays.  There is also a magazines display cart located in a more high-traffic location with a sign directing people to the Magazine Department for more great titles.

To make the department a little more colourful and to bring attention to a selection of different titles, colour photocopies of magazine covers have been made. These are displayed on the shelf ends in the Magazine Department and on the magazine shelves themselves. There is also a beautiful selection of classic Vogue covers displayed behind the Magazine Desk to remind people of our selection of back issues available.

Who said you only have to promote books during a friendly Booksmack? This is a great way we showcase our magazine collection.

There is nothing we love more than highlighting our collection and helping people find a great new magazine or something similar to a title to which they’re already loyal. While the periodicals landscape has been changing in the past few years, we have found the interest in magazines has not diminished and, in fact, as greater demands are placed on people’s time, magazines are finding increased readership. So what magazine will you read next?

Victoria-20130510-00084 Victoria-20130510-00086 Victoria-20130510-00092 Victoria-20130510-00094

L. Beauchemin & P. Nestoruk, Magazines & Newspapers Clerks, GVPL

Reader’s Advisory for Audiobooks

Audiobook Month takes place annually in June, and is much heralded by audio producers and distributors with ready-made lists of the season’s hottest new titles and award-winning productions. The Audies Awards, announced May 30 by the Audio Publishers Association, celebrate not only the Audiobook of the Year, but present additional awards in 28 categories by genre and subject area, audience, quality of narration, technical production, and even packaging.

I discovered the pleasures of audiobooks when my work location changed and I suddenly found myself with two 25-minute daily commutes. The silver lining was more time to read with my ears. An excellent narrator brought a whole new dimension to a work, introducing me to provocative non-fiction, hilarious essays, poignant memoirs and sassy romances that I would never have picked up in print. An easy convert, I quickly progressed to loading up my MP3 player with titles downloaded from Library-to-Go, to make my workouts and noontime walks around the jogging circuit more enjoyable. Before long, the meaning of NPR’s “driveway moments” dawned, as I lingered in the car or did a few more repeats before pressing the pause button. Other audiobook fans extend their listening time while cooking, gardening or doing household chores.

The more you listen, the more discerning you become about voice quality, accents, sound effects, and overall production. Professional narrators who have become personal favourites often lead us into unfamiliar reading territory to hear that beautiful voice perform again. Audio awards lists, both winning titles and contenders, enhance discoverability of new authors, genres and subjects in audio productions guaranteed to be truly exceptional. Check out The Audies, Publishers Weekly’s Listen-Up Awards, Audiofile Magazine’s Earphones Awards and Booklist’s Editors’ Choice Top of the List Audio for outstanding audio titles across various genres and audience levels.

As with movies, it’s fun and enlightening to occasionally compare the print and the audio versions. While some print titles fall flat or even grate in audio, an average book can become a much fuller experience in the hands of an accomplished reader.

How to promote this format? Include audiobooks with your staff picks displays to encourage patrons to try something new. Try displaying the audiobook along with a print copy of a title, or promote a selection of titles appropriate for family listening. Highlight memoirs, travel and autobiographies read by the author. Display great beach reads in a new medium or challenge your patrons to tackle a classic or a title they’ve always meant to read.  Some libraries sticker print editions to indicate the title is also available in an alternate format such as ebook or downloadable audio.

On your web site’s staff picks lists, feature a list of award-winners available in downloadable audio format, or a list of audio works by top narrators (for suggestions see Audiofiles’ Golden Voices and ALA’s The Listen List ), or a long list of fan favourites on the Literate Housewife blog ).

With summer approaching and school holidays beckoning, what better time to promote your audio collection, whether it be physical CDs to take along on those long summer road trips, or downloadable audio delivered via mobile device while hiking, cycling or just chilling out on the deck.  As a number of library blogs have noted, audiobooks are great for family listening too, keeping everyone in the car entertained while painlessly increasing literacy skills.

Here’s to a few more converts to the art and craft of audiobooks!

Colleen Stewart, Head, Collection Services, GVPL