A patron walks up to your desk clinging to a book that they just read. You can tell they are reluctant to return it right away by the whites of their knuckles. You notice the title and author, and then, “This was a GREAT book, I really liked it…Can you recommend another book just like this?” You freeze. You have not read that book, and are only vaguely familiar with the author and the story. Readers’ advisory for librarians can be a challenging task for those working in public libraries as we help patrons from a wide range of reading backgrounds find their next great book to enjoy. Many patrons have very specific tastes that differ from ours, and excellent customer service requires assisting all patrons. Fortunately, there are several book recommendation resources available online – NoveList, Bookish, and What Should I Read Next are three that immediately come to mind. Utilizing these online resources can be a huge help when it comes to book recommendations and does not detract from our mission.
Some relevant questions crop up concerning readers’ advisory (RA). What sources did librarians use before the internet and search engines dominated the landscape? Can an algorithm and clever computer code recommend books more efficiently than us cutting edge librarians? What does it say that even the New York Public Library is using Bookish as their featured recommendation engine? Public librarians would be wise to position themselves as human recommendation engines by keeping current with reading trends, and using online search tools to remain relevant for RA and to keep patrons coming back.
As a librarian who primarily reads non-fiction and can be a bit too busy for some current bestselling 400-plus page books (I’m looking at you Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and R.I.P. Tom Clancy). I admit to having some difficulty assisting certain patrons at times. Recently an elderly patron asked me for something uplifting to read and she related to me that her son had just passed away. She became rather emotional in telling me that she did not want to read anything dark, violent, or too realistic, but since those genres are very prevalent, it was time to put on my RA thinking cap. Fortunately our library system subscribes to NoveList Plus and I was able to locate several books for her to check out based on her past reads. However, would Bookish, or other online search options, be able to provide the human aspect for a search like librarians can?
I spent a lot of time in the 90s and the early 2000s record shopping and looking for great music to listen to. My friends and I spent a lot of time driving around and we were not big fans of radio. CMJ magazine was very popular as the internet had not grown enough yet to really compete with print magazines. CMJ had a cool feature at the end of each band blurb that they called “Recommended If You Like.” While not always accurate, this feature led me to a lot of new music that I had not yet discovered. This was the precursor to Bookish, whatshouldireadnext.com, and other similar book recommendation services. The bands that made the biggest impression on me though, where those that record store clerks recommended to me, or that I would listen to at the listening stations after having found out about them from a friend or an article. “Recommended If You Like” did not replace the clerks, or completely simplify my search, but worked as part of a discovery system. We librarians need to make sure that we are part of our customer’s discovery system, to enhance their search experience, and as an opportunity to highlight all we do as librarians.