Handouts from Workshop: Reader's Advisory: The Complete Spectrum

Tips on Self-Training for Readers Advisory Work with Adults

  1. Be a friend.

Make your relationship with users a relationship of equals.

Don't build yourself up by being an "expert."

Guide them to their self-knowledge by helping them define their needs and interests narrowly:

"I want a book on gardening."

"They're over here; do you want a big general book or are you thinking of something specific like pruning, shrubs, mulch, greenhouses, or perennials?

"I want a good mystery."

" We have a lot of good ones. Do you like any particular kind? English village one? Lady detectives? Hard-boiled and gritty? Scary?"

Do not say "clean ones" before they do, or you'll shut them up. Also, try not to promise books more pristine than possible.

Do not make assumptions about users' interests, tastes, reading levels or intelligence based on age, sex, dress, etc. Everyone is equal.

Learn about now books and forever books. Danielle Steel writes now books; Anne Tyler writes forever books.

Both kinds of books are essential to all users.

"Now" books tell us how to talk to people at parties or assure us that we will pass through our current age or passage, or they give us a very contemporary look at current problems.

"Forever" books deal with such things as long term relationships, philosophy, history, and an analysis of the human condition.

  1. Techniques for becoming more aware of books.

Stop reading books cover to cover. You are not a literary critic. You are a guide to reading.

Consider books you recommend as stimulants to thinking, not as definitive answers. Good books provoke thinking instead of answers.

For two months, read Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, and one or more genre fan magazines like Romantic Times, Locus, or Mystery Buff. Read the articles and pay close attention to the ads. Do not read the reviews. the text and ads will give you a feeling for the publishing world-all the hustling and changes in the world of books outside libraries. Who buys what? What is reprinted? How are covers chosen? What are the trends and controversies? What authors are winning awards or being featured?

Do not waste time reading Virginia Kirkus Reviews unless you have the book in hand for comparison, or unless you must order from the reviews. If the latter, remember that there are other prepublication sources now such as "Forecasts" in Publishers Weekly, "Prepub Alert" in Library Journal, and "Up Front" in Booklist.

Use a little time to read periodicals you never usually touch such as Ladies Home Journal, The Economist, GQ, Esquire, Gun Dog, Entertainment Weekly, or TV Guide.

Read a major national newspaper and your local equivalent every day. Every single day!

Read neighborhood, city, or county newspapers at least twice a week.

Browse regularly in mall, superstore, and second-hand paperback bookstores. Besides studying what titles are being featured and how they are packaged, look also at how displays are managed and space is used.

  1. Keeping Records.

Become familiar with at least 25 new adult books every week.

Make a 3 X 5 or hypercard with a one-sentence synopsis for each book and a comment on other books similar to it. File these by subject, genre, or author, whichever is more useful to you. Soon you will have a huge background building up with links to other books in your mind as well as in your cards.

Do not use other people's lists unless you revise, copy onto cards, or add to them. Doing something physical about a book, like writing down information about it, implants it on your brain.

Read one book by a popular prolific author and one by a literary award winning author, and then update your file by blurb reading on other books by those authors. Examples would be Sidney Sheldon and Margaret Atwoood.

Read or scan carefully every book on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. Do not judge them. Think instead about why they are read and who likes to read them. Media blitz alone does not make a bestseller.

Roam the stacks. Talk to users. Ask their opinions. Check which books have lots of circulation and take some home to scan, regardless of subject.

Read out of your genre. For example, if you don't know anything about science fiction, get titles from the Hugo or Nebula Awards or the best selling lists in Locus and read in the genre until you do know something.

Repeat-Keep notes on what you read!

Talk to co-workers who are different from you about what they read and why.

Talk to users about what they read and about what the library doesn't have enough of. Accost them [gently] at the paperback racks and new book shelves. You'll get a few rebuffs, but also many enlightening ideas.

The circulation staff gets a lot of feedback about the collection that you never get at an information desk. See if you can put in a stint at the circ desk every once in a while so you can talk to users about the books they are checking out and returning. Also, interview the circ staff about what they hear and what they themselves read regularly.

Ask yourself-What do men read? women? teenagers? Why do so many people buy the National Enquirer?

Never assure a user that he or she "will love this book." We only give conditional recommendations, not guarantees.

Don't use terms like "fiction" and "nonfiction" with the public too much. They are meaningless to most people. Use "mystery," "thriller," "romance," "biography," "true crime," and "historical novel" instead.

Be honest. Never say you've read a book if you haven't. If you really hate a book, say, "The critics liked it," or some such.

Jane Hirsch (original), 1986
Mary K. Chelton (revised), 1993, 1998