Academic Reader’s Advisory

I almost put a question mark after the title. This morning I received one of those ALA Editions emails advertising three recent reader’s advisory titles. The whole concept seems very foreign to me. Certainly I get the idea – helping people find books they want to read, probably based on what they’ve liked in the past – but it doesn’t seem to be anything we do in academic libraries as a matter of course.

Once a few years ago I did get a question that was almost reader’s advisory like. It’s the only time I’ve ever gotten it, so I even remember. Someone was looking for books with musician characters because they were assigning a research essay and wanted to suggest books to students. For a minute or so I wondered how I was going to help the person, but then realized some public reference librarian had probably already done my job for me. Sure enough, within a couple of Google searches I found several reader’s advisory lists of novels with musician characters. At the time I thought to myself, how do they do that?

On the other hand, I guess some of us do reader’s advisory of a sort. In a research consultation, we’re definitely dispensing some advice on what to read. "Peer-reviewed, scholarly books and articles are just the thing you need!" In the technical sense of the phrase, this is reader’s advisory, right? We’re advising readers.

I have a feeling that the public librarians get more satisfied patrons, though, or at least patrons with a different sort of satisfaction. I would imagine (and I could be wrong) that the people who come away from a good reader’s advisory consultation are looking at all the copacetic books on their list bursting with anticipation, whereas often after a successful consultation with me a student goes away with a list of great looking sources but not necessarily with a gleeful look in their eyes as they contemplate reading the stuff. I want the gleeful look; I’m just not sure how to get it.

3 thoughts on “Academic Reader’s Advisory

  1. For history, at least (though I imagine this could be true in other disciplines), readers’ advisory takes the form of being able to suggest specific titles: “You’re working on x topic? There are a lot of books on this in the catalog, but the first one you should read is y – it’s the source that people who write about this topic always cite or argue with.” I’ve found that students (not all, obviously) will get excited about this, even if sometimes their excitement is only because it saves them time.

  2. Hi Wayne,
    I am an academic librarian also, just graduating with my MLS this year. I have been at a community college for 13 years.
    I have wanted to do a Readers Advisory for may years, but was told (and I found out) it does not work at an academic library. I tried it via a blog, which went over like a lead baloon!
    I am completing my practicum at a public library where my Reader’s Advisory has gone very well. I love it! Like you, I love the gleeful look in the patron’s eye! Oh, for the love of that look!
    If you discover a way of doing a Reader’s Advisory in an academic library, please share it with me!
    By the way, I enjoy reading your blog. You always have such thoughtful commentary and observations. Keep up the good work!

  3. John, yes, I do have some moments like that, where I can not only say that this is a good sort of book for your topic, but that this is in fact a good book for it. Those are nice. Linda, I’m not aware of any reader’s advisory in academic libraries, though lots of libraries do offer leisure reading collections, which is leaning in that direction.

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