Summer School is for Super Stars: Why I Love Readers’ Advisory

This summer I am having the absolute pleasure of taking an online course called “Adult Popular Reading and Media Interests.” Essentially, we read lots of novels from different genres, learn about and discuss why people love them so much, and get to dive deep into “readers’ advisory” (AKA the fine art of suggesting books to people!)

Let’s just say that for a life-long book worm like me, it is a dream class and filling my little library-school student heart with joy.

Our assignments have been a lot of fun so far, and I have even been so enchanted with this whole readers’ advisory thing to rope a bunch of friends and family into letting me practice suggesting books to them.

A Facebook post by Allison Jones that reads, "I am taking a course this summer in "Readers' Advisory" AKA how to help people who come to the library and ask something along the lines of "What should I read?" or "Can you recommend a good book?"  It is really very fun and I would like to practice so if you are looking for a good book and want some personalized suggestions send me a message and let me know!" and has a picutre of an astronaut/alien giving a thumbs up to a big ol' pile of books.

To do so, I have revitalized my flagging GoodReads account (their app design is the worst, and they are owned by Amazon, but it is good for sharing lists with people) and made some different book suggestion lists for various friends. If you’re interested in having me make you one, let me know but I will forewarn you that I’m going out of town and away from internet for a couple of weeks so I’ll be a bit slow to get back to you.

For my first class assignment I got to investigate a current topic in readers’ advisory, so I chose “integrated readers’ advisory,” which basically considers how can librarians extend the suggestions and support for patrons beyond books. BEYOND BOOKS!?! IN A LIBRARY?!? You ask, incredulously. Well, yes.

Readers’ advisory is based on this thing called “appeal factors,” and in fact they carry across a variety of different media (with some variations of course). For example, with books the four traditional appeal factors (and some questions that can help you understand what you think about them) are:

  • Pacing: Do you like your books fast and furious? Want to be so hooked you stay up all night turning those pages? Or are you more of a leisurely reader, diving into the details and descriptions, languishing in the language?
  • Characters: Are you looking for your new BFF in the pages of a book? Do you still think about characters you fell in love with years ago? Are you aching for a good series because you hate to let them go? Do you want to read about a crowd or a family, and get tied up in their tangled relationships? Do you prefer a ‘type’; always a sucker for the wacky professors or the teen tomboy heroines (HELLO TEENAGE ALLISON)?
  • Storyline: Are you more concerned with the people and relationships or the plot of a book? Are characters making things happen through their decisions and actions, or are they reacting to events and situations around them? Do you like parallel storylines, like the movie Crash, where they all intersect at the end?
  • Frame: How detailed of a setting do you desire? Do you want the details of the time and place, historically accurate and thoroughly described? Or it could be any-town and you’re happy to adapt and let the background fade into the background? Do you want something uplifting and humorous? Dark and gritty? Thoughtful and nuanced? Are your favourite stories in this world, or another? How important is realism or world-building to you?

You might notice as you answer these that your mind is also drawn to things other than books. Lots of these questions could apply to movies, TV shows, podcasts, video games, and all kinds of other stories and media that we engage with. Which brings us back to integrated advisory. I think that libraries and librarians can play a helpful role in supporting patrons to think about these questions, identify what they are looking, and help them find it. Without just relying on a Google algorithm (remember from my last post, that thing is really biased) or a GoodReads (Amazon-owned!) book suggestion tool or a Netflix (also making $$ off your viewing) “trending” list to recommend our next indulgence or delight.

Anyway, I am still very much a beginner in this arena but I think it is very interesting stuff. I struggle with a couple of things in this standard appeal structure, but I can work with it. Mainly, I often pick books based on their political themes, and there’s not a lot of room for that in the way appeal factors have been constructed. It’s hard for me to use them to find books that break down the gender binary, include racialized characters in non-token or racist ways, or explore anarchism-in-action… you know, the good stuff 😉 Luckily, I have Spartacus Books, a great network of friends who are also avid readers and book suggesting dreamboats, and my wits about me to help me find those, but wouldn’t it be great if it was a standard RA category?!

Anyway, that’s all for now but the next assignment I am working on is very near and dear to my heart and I can’t wait to share it with you soon!

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