Reader's Advisory

One of the hot topics in reference is reader's advisory. It's the reason many people engage in reference interactions with librarians, but it's often hard to narrow in on exactly what a patron liked about a particular book.  And for me at least, when a patron admits that they don't enjoy reading or actively dislikes it, I feel a lot of pressure to deliver.  I have long felt that there is a book out there for each person, it's just a question of matching the two together.  But doing that can be a complicated, frustrating, and sometimes disheartening experience.   If I sound down, it's because I've just handled two reader's advisory interactions which went less well than I would have hoped.  In the first case, I had a freshman who "hates reading" looking for a short, funny book, but not one that would make her feel dumb (so graphic novels were out), no vampires ("read my lips: N-O, NO!"), no romances, no chick-lit books, nothing I could suggest caught her interest. "You know who's really good at finding me books that I like? Mrs. F_____" (the librarian, who is out today).

Finally, she started to drift onto the fact that she wanted to know more about why she felt sleepy after getting enough sleep, and mentioned that a classmate had told her she could get shaky from low blood sugar even if she wasn't a diabetic.  Aha! Science books!

I led her over to the 500s, and quickly located an Eyewitness book on the human body.  "Does this have any inappropriate pictures?" she asked, skeptically flipping through the book. "Nothing inappropriate for school," I told her, "but it depends on how you define inappropriate." "Well, like, no pictures of big animals, or dead ones." After reassuring her that she was unlikely to find such images in this book, she reluctantly agreed to give the book a chance, warning me that she would be back next week to find another book for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time.  At least next week, I'll be braced for a complicated reference interview again.

No sooner had I sent this student on her way, then I had an advisor and a student come in looking for "graphic novels on World War I or II."  I suggested Maus at first, but the suggestion fell flat, so I continued to search.  The student expressed an interest in any kind of book, preferably with "real stories," of which we have many, but the advisor was adamant that they be in graphic novel form.  Moments of excruciating silence passed as I flicked through 300+ results for "World War II" in the catalog, until finally, the other librarian suggested Maus again.  This time, the suggestion fell upon more receptive ears, and so I ran off to the stacks, found the book, and placed it in the advisor's hands.

These are the moments that no amount of class time can prepare you for.  I'm grateful for the grounding I got exploring the elements of a successful reference transaction in LIS 406, but I'm equally grateful for these moments of practice in my practicum to explore these issues in real time.  These might not have been the world's best reference interviews, but they weren't terrible, and they'll get better with practice. And that's the most important part at the end of the day - GSLIS gives us a great education, and then we get to go out into the real world and put everything we learned into practical experience.

People | Reader's Advisory | School Libraries


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