One of the core services of a public library is Reader’s Advisory, or RA. That’s the professional term for recommending a book to a library patron. Now, anyone can suggest a book to someone else, but the difference with formal Reader’s Advisory is that the focus is completely on the person requesting the suggestion. Rather than standing on my book-lover’s soapbox and telling everyone they should read my most recent favorites (currently The Murderbot Diaries, which are much lighter than the name would lead you to believe), my goal in answering Reader’s Advisory requests is to learn enough about the patron to match them with the right book for them at this moment in time. Not necessarily the book I think is great, but the book that meets their needs. 

Children’s Librarians and Teachers talk about Reader’s Advisory in terms of finding the “The Right Book for The Right Child at the Right Time.” There’s a lot that goes into that, from determining a child’s reading level to talking with them to understand what type of story or nonfiction book will interest and motivate them at this point in their life. It is challenging to do well and takes expertise and time (and trial and error) but when you get it right, you can hook a child on a book, author, or series, and that feels like you’ve hit a home run. 

A similar approach can be taken with adults, with similarly rewarding results. While an adult’s reading level is not usually as much of a factor, having a good conversation with them to see what they are interested in reading right now is just as important. In a Reader’s Advisory Interview (more professional terminology; this usually looks more like a casual conversation than an interview), library staff will ask the patron open-ended questions like: 

  • What types of books do you usually like to read? 
  • Who are some of your favorite authors? 
  • What have you read recently that you loved? 
  • What did you like about it? 
  • What are you in the mood for today?  

The answers to each question can inspire further conversation and follow-up questions. Sometimes the right book for the patron will come to mind easily, sometimes a walk through the shelves together will lead to inspiration, and sometimes library staff will turn to some of JCLS’ Reader’s Advisory tools to turn up some good possibilities. Collaboratively, the patron and the library staff will collect a stack of options that seem promising and maybe place some holds for items at other branches. At that point, with the options narrowed down a bit, the patron gets to decide which books to take home with them to try out. It is a low-risk proposition – anything they don’t like they can just bring back. Hopefully, though, the patron will let us know which books were winners the next time they come into the library, and the feedback will make for an ever-more-personalized Reader’s Advisory conversation. 

So, if you are wondering what to read next, feel free to ask at the library for some Reader’s Advisory suggestions. We’ll have a good conversation about what you’re looking for that day and maybe together we’ll knock it out of the park.