Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Read This, Not That

Reader's advisory, by default, is one of the main  functions of library staff and yet little training, if any, is spent on preparing staff for these customer transactions.  It's a simple question asked in many forms from the direct "what should I read next" to the coy "what good books have you read lately."  And, while a customer will patiently wait for you to answer the simplest of reference questions, the reader's advisor must give prompt answers to satisfy the customer's query.  This is difficult in so many ways because staff often get a question about a genre they don't read or draw a blank on titles they have read.

Most information I've read about reader's advisory gives the advice to be well read or to be proficient in reader's advisory tools such as Novelist.  Being well read is certainly useful when it comes to recommending books, but it is not the definitive answer in the reader's advisory quandary.  Novelist also has lots of great uses but, for the average reader's advisor, it takes time that the customer is usually not willing to give.  Most customers assume that the librarian has read everything on the shelf and expect you to have the answer to their reading dilemma on the tip of your tongue.  Since it's impossible to read everything, I recommend trying some of these tricks for a better reader's advisory experience:

Even if you haven't read the book yourself, you need to be able to sell it to the customer in 20 words or less - especially if you are doing reader's advisory for a child or young adult.  I often find myself recommending the same book to multiple people and, I've noticed, after the first time around I have come up with a slogan for the book that helps hook the reader in.  I would say that about 70% of the time I have not even read the book.  Because I am enthusiastic about the book, the reader is sure they will like the book, too.

A customer recently asked a staff member what her top ten favorite books were.  This was an almost impossible task to complete.  This forced the staff member to recall hundreds, if not thousands, of books she had read over the years.  The results ended up spanning many different genres and it was difficult for her to whittle it down to just ten.  I recommend coming up with a top ten (or top five) list as well.  But I'll make it easy on you - choose your top five books or authors over several genres and write it down on paper.  If you are like me, there is at least one genre where you will be unable to list anything.  This is okay.  Just having your top books written down will help bring the titles to the forefront of your mind and allow you to recall them faster when asked.  I've found that staff are more confident advising on books they have personally read.

Having conversations about books you are reading can help you develop your hook line.  It can also give other coworkers ideas for suggestions, especially if it's a genre they don't read.  Much like your top five lists of favorite books, you may want to put together a top five list of recommended reads for genres that you don't read.  By listening to your coworker's descriptions, you can develop a pretty good hook for a book you've never even picked up.  There are also plenty of reader's advisory blogs out there and online bookshelves such as Goodreads where plenty of people are discussing great (and not so great) books to read.

For those genres that you don't read, don't be afraid to grab a coworker who does read in that area.  You may also need to grab a coworker if you get an avid reader who has seemingly read everything you recommend to them. For this, it helps to know your coworker's reading habits.  If you've been talking about what you read, then it should be no problem pairing the right staff member and reader together.  When you find yourself grabbing a coworker to help do not pass the customer off completely.  If possible, stay and listen to what your coworker recommends and then you will have those titles in your arsenal for the next time around.  And, trust me, there will be a next time.

The best way, by far, to improve your reader's advisory skills is to simply do it - a lot!  By having conversations about books with customers, you find that your repertoire is expanded.  There are so many other tips and tricks out there that, if you would like more information on the subject of reader's advisory, you can find almost everything I've suggested and much more online.  I particularly like Get On The Bus, which was shared with me by my supervisor.  I'd love to hear more tools that you use for reader's advisory as, I must admit, it is not one of my strong suits.

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