Tag Archives: Stumpers

Challenging RA Questions

This year RA in a Half Day responded to some of the takeaways from last year’s event and included more interactive components and RA interview role playing. Tara Matsuzaki served as the master of ceremonies for a scintillating series of challenging RA questions presented as mock interviews. Questions were presented to the audience and every table was asked to come up with recommendations and ideas for how to solve their reading needs. Imagine a room of 70 talented librarians, MLIS candidates and library allies leaning in and sharing their collective skills and knowledge on readers’ advisory. It was a flood of ideas!

War Films for Dad – Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library

Heidi Schiller acted the part of a patron looking for war films, especially from WWII, for a father who has already seen all the classics. The audience really picked up on looking outside of film towards TV series like Band of Brothers and Foyle’s War. The question also came up as to whether or not he would like a humorous adaptation such as MASH and how far outside WWII he would be interested in going. So some suggestions even looked at the similarities of war films based in the 20th century conflicts to films like Gladiator or Troy based on conflicts in much earlier eras. There were a lot of suggestions for where to find quality suggestion lists, from various library websites to even the genre page on Wikipedia.

Moving from YA to Adult Fantasy – Meghan Savage, Surrey Libraries

Playing the part of a teenage patron wanting to move out of YA fantasy literature into adult Fantasy, Meghan challenged the audience to meet her interest in stand alone novels or short series with a romantic flare. Neil Gaiman’s work came up immediately and universally as a great cross-over author from YA to adult fantasy. Kelley Armstrong was also mentioned as an author who wrote both YA and adult fantasy, though much of her adult works is more urban in focus. Sharron Shinn, author of several fantasy series with a romantic focus, and Jim Butcher, with a more adventure driven series, were mentioned as authors of series that can be consumed out of order without too much disruption of story lines. The point was also made that fantasy contains many sub-genres to consider.

Positive Graphic Novels to Teach – Robbie Burma, Vancouver Public Library

Robbie Burma offered the biggest challenge to the audience by playing the part of a teacher looking for sunnier graphic novels to suggest for a 12th grade general English curriculum. It proved to be proved to be a real challenge to rule out the grittier, more violent and/or darker graphic novels while remaining age appropriate and maintaining literary depth. The end result was the need to dig deeper into the patron’s needs and widen the collaboration by audience members as much as possible to get to the best suggestions. The most consistent mentions were for Escape to Gold Mountain by David H. T. Wong and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

Just a Good Book – Anthea Goffe, Fraser Valley Regional Library

It can be a stumper when the patron’s interests are really broad and vague so Anthea played a male patron just looking for any good read, fiction or non-fiction, but hopefully something that had a little literary merit balanced with a fast paced story. A few questions pulled out her appreciation of Hunger Games and Into Thin Air and her dislike of John Grisham and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The audience found this challenge great fun and indulged a taste for gushing about many great titles and authors ranging from Bill Bryson to Lee Childs and from Margaret Atwood’s series beginning with Oryx and Crake to The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost.

Pre-loaded E-reader Gift – Barbara Edwards, Vancouver Public Library

Finally, Barbara brought in the factor of eBooks by asking for recommendations including both fiction similar to Amy Tan or Downton Abbey and some quirky cookbooks to pre-load on an eReader gift for her daughter-in-law. The issue of the eReader type was brought up both in the mock interview and by audience members. Issues included the inability of Kindle owners to download library eBooks in Canada and the quality of visuals for cookbooks on a black and white eReader. The existence of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook seemed ideal, at least on a colour eReader, but the audience also realized a need to ask more questions about what “quirky” meant in relation to cookbooks.

Occasionally Bewildering: Tough RA Questions

The Readers’ Advisory Interest Group is collecting challenging real-life RA questions. We plan to use these questions at our upcoming events and as part of other readers’ advisory professional development initiatives.

Please send us the toughest RA questions you have been asked. Bonus points if you include the answer!

To submit your questions, reply in the comments field below this post, send a message to our brand new email address raig@bcla.bc.ca, head over to our Facebook page, or create a video clip starring you and your colleagues dramatizing your challenging question. Post your video file to our Facebook page or upload it to YouTube. In the case of the latter, please send us the link.

Here’s a classic RA stumper that includes heaps of details that only a human brain could contend with such as cover art and the organization of library collections on physical shelves:

Subject: Stumper: Novel translated from Italian 9-10 yo boy on a playground

Got a cool stumper for the collective mind. This patron only read the first few pages of a book, and now she can’t find it on the shelves.  So the clues are even more vague than “usual”.  🙂
— Male Author whose name starts with a B
— Novel was translated from Italian
— The Author won a “major award”.  Maybe for this book, maybe for another. Maybe an Italian award.
— The cover art was a picture of a boy “in warm weather”
— From the first few pages, the lead character is a young boy, 9-10 years old, on a school playground.  She thought it might have been a rural or remote setting.
— What she remembers most strongly is that it was “beautifully written”. I would take this to mean very lyrical.
If it helps, she actually looking for a book by Maeve Binchy when she find the stumper title.  Given the arrangement of our shelves, she thinks it would have been an author with a name between Beaton and Bennett.  Also, we don’t have mysteries or any other subgenre in a different area.  However, given her description, I’m pretty sure we are looking for a work of literary fiction.
Thanks in advance for any help or clues!

Subject: Re: Stumper: Novel translated from Italian 9-10 yo boy on a playground

Timeskipper by Stefano Benni
Italy’s foremost satirist recounts the adventures of Timeskipper, a young man endowed with a rare gift: the ability to see into the future. A tale in which innocence and imagination defy corruption and conformity, in which the eccentricities and innocence of yesteryear come face-to-face with the moral aridity of today’s money-obsessed society, Timeskipper is one of Stefano Benni’s most touching and enduring creations. Colored by Benni’s trademark linguistic inventiveness and irresistible humor, this is a coming-of-age story with a difference.

You are fast!  And yet again, Fiction_L makes a satisfied customer! My patron hadn’t even left the building yet.  She offered to take the winner out for pizza, but then I explained you might live in Nebraska.


Thank you to librarian Karen Toonen of Naperville Public Library  who granted us permission to publish the stumper she posted to the excellent Fiction_L mailing list. Thank you also to the Morton Grove Public Library for providing this RA service to the library community since 1995 and all subscribers of the list past and present.

When faced with a tough RA question, remember that the collective wisdom of the Fiction_L participants can name an obscure title like nobody’s business!