Readers' advisory

Readers' advisory

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North America

"Setting a date for the start of what we now call readers advisory service, particularly readers advisory in the public library, is at best a frustrating, almost arbitrary exercise. Efforts at historical precision can founder on such basic issues as the absence of common definitions. For example, answers to such questions as 'What exactly is a public library?" or "What really is readers advisory?" have long been disputed." (Bill Crowley, from his 2005 journal article "Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service") [Citation |last = Crowley |first = Bill |title = Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service |journal = Public Libraries |volume = 44 |issue = 1 |page = 37 |year = 2005]

Opposing Viewpoints on the Merits of Different Types of Readers' Advisory

The historical period divisions and merits of different types of readers' advisory services is a hotly debated topic among librarians.

Bill Crowley, in his 2005 article, "Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service," breaks down the historical period divisions of the service into four eras: [Citation |last = Crowley |first = Bill |title = Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service |journal = Public Libraries |volume = 44 |issue = 1 |page = 38 |year = 2005]
*1876 to 1920 - "Inventing" Readers' Advisory
*1920 to 1940 - "Privileging Nonfiction" in Readers' Advisory
*1940 to 1984 - Readers' Advisory "'Lost' in Adult Services"
*1984 to 2005 (current at time of article) - "Reviving Readers' Advisory"

Juris Dilevko and Candice Magowan question the merits of the current readers' advisory emphasis on popular fiction materials in their book "Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005." They subdivide the history as: Citation |last = Dilevko |first = Juris |last2 = Magowan |first2 = Candice |title = Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005 |place = Jefferson, North Carolina, and London |page = 53 |publisher = McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers |year = 2007 |isbn = 9780786429257]
*1870 to 1916 - "The Formative Years"
*1917 to 1962 - "The Commitment to Systematic Adult Education"
*1963 to 2005 - "The Devolution into Entertainment"

Dilevko and Mogowan write about "readers' advisory systematically committ [ing] itself to meaningful adult education through serious and purposeful reading" [Citation |last = |title = Editorial Reviews: Product Description |url = | accessdate = 2008-07-24] up until the 1960s, when emphasis on "popular culture resulted in the 'Give 'Em What They Want' approach" and the "The Devolution into Entertainment." [Citation |last = Dilevko |first = Juris |last2 = Magowan |first2 = Candice |title = Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005 |place = Jefferson, NC |page = 53 |publisher = McFarland & Company |year = 2007 |isbn = 9780786429257]

1897 - 1920

In 1897, the ALA President stated that "the personal influence of librarians who assisted and advised readers was the most potent force in molding community reading." [Citation |last = Birge |first = Lynn E. |title = Serving Adult Learners: A Public Library Tradition |publisher = American Library Association |year = 1981 |place = Chicago |isbn = 0838903460 ]

1920 - 1980

Organized readers' advisory programs have been documented dating back to the 1920s. [Citation |last = Saricks |first = Joyce |year = 2005 |title = Readers' Advisory service in the Public Library |edition = 3rd |place = Chicago |publisher = American Library Association |page = 1] Between 1922 - 1926 readers' advisory programs were experimentally introduced into seven urban libraries (Cleveland and Detroit, in 1922Citation |editor-last = Wiegand |editor-first = Wayne |editor2-last = Davis |editor2-first = Donald |year = 1994 |title = Encyclopedia of Library History |publisher = Taylor & Francis |page = 538 |isbn = 0824057872] , Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, in 1923 and 1924, and Cincinnati and Portland, OR). [Citation |last = Saricks |first = Joyce |year = 2005 |title = Readers' Advisory service in the Public Library |edition = 3rd |place = Chicago |publisher = American Library Association |page = 4]

The Adult Education Movement emerged in the 1920s in public libraries and was frequently discussed in American Library Association professional publications. [ [ The American Library Adult Education Movement: 1924-1933 ] ]

The 1924 report "The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge" by William Learned to the Carnegie Corporation sought to establish adult education as the focus of the public library, with personalized readers' advisory service to adult readers by "reference experts" who would make up a "community intellegence service."

The 1926 American Library Association "book-length" commission report "Libraries and Adult Education" placed high importance on readers' advisory services in Adult Education. Judson T. Jennings provided a summary of the work, observing that the "library's contribution to adult education resolved itself into three major activities:"Citation |last = Crowley |first = Bill |title = Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service |journal = Public Libraries |volume = 44 |issue = 1 |page = 39 |year = 2005]

1. An information service regarding local opportunities for adult students.
2. Service to other agencies engaged in adult education.
3. Service to individual readers and students. [Citation |last = Jennings |first = Judson |year = 1929 |title = Voluntary Education through the Public Library |place = Chicago |publisher = American Library Association |page = 13]

This new professional interest during the 1920s spurred the creation of specialized full-time readers' advisory positions in major public libraries. By 1936, an estiminated, 50 public libraries had established readers' advisory services.

Until the early 1960s, readers' advisory focused on non-fiction materials and continuing adult education. [Citation |last = Burgin |first = Robert |publication-date = 2007-09 |year = 2007 |title = Ten Reasons to Incorporate Nonfiction into Your Readers' Advisory Class |periodical = Readers' Advisor News |publisher = Libraries Unlimited |url = |accessdate = 2008-07-24]

1980s - 2000s

Some librarians consider the early 1980s to be the beginning of a revival in readers' advisory and praise the inclusion of fiction (including genre fiction: fantasy, mystery, romance, etc) and write that historically readers' advisory was a prejudice in favor of nonfiction. [Crowley, Bill (2005) "Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service." "Public Libraries". Vol 44 No. 1. p.40] [Luyt, Brendan (2001). "Regulating Readers: The Social Origins of the Readers' Advisor in the United States." "The Library Quarterly". Vol. 71 No. 4 p.443-466 ]

Others disapprove of the new approaches and changes in service. Dilevko and Magowan write "Post-1980 readers' advisory thus became an opportunity to converse with patrons about 'light, quick, escapist' books -- popular and ephemeral fiction and nonfiction for entertainment, pleasure, and recreation -- because such conversations were not 'too burdensome'." [Citation |last = Dilevko |first = Juris |last2 = Magowan |first2 = Candice |title = Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005 |place = Jefferson, NC |page = 24 |publisher = McFarland & Company |year = 2007 |isbn = 9780786429257]

In 1982, the term "genreflecting" was first coined by Betty Rosenberg, who authored: Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction (Libraries Unlimited, 1982).

Another major influence on the spread and revival of readers' advisory was the Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT), [ [ ARRT Reads: Adult Reading Round Table Homepage ] ] founded by a group of Chicago public librarians in 1984. The group organized workshops, seminars, and genre-study groups. [Citation |last = Dilevko |first = Juris |last2 = Magowan |first2 = Candice |title = Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005 |place = Jefferson, NC |page = 3 |publisher = McFarland & Company |year = 2007 |isbn = 9780786429257] [A list of past programs offered by ARRT, dating back to its founding in 1984, are available at (accessed July 22, 2008)]

Current Interest

Interest in readers' advisory continues to grow. Libraries Unlimited Genreflecting Advisory Series has grown to 27 titles as of July 2008 [ (accessed July 22, 2008)] (from 15 titles in 2005). [Citation |last = Dilevko |first = Juris |last2 = Magowan |first2 = Candice |title = Readers' Advisory Service in North American Public Libraries, 1870 - 2005 |place = Jefferson, NC |page = 4 |publisher = McFarland & Company |year = 2007 |isbn = 9780786429257] Beyond traditional genere (fantasy, mystery, romance); some of the diverse, unique, and niche offerings now include: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered LiteratureA Genre Guide [ [ Libraries Unlimited ] ] , Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More [ [ Libraries Unlimited ] ] , and Christian FictionA Guide to the Genre [ [ Libraries Unlimited ] ] .

". . . contemporary readers advisory service is best understood as an organized program promoting both fiction and nonfiction discretionary reading for the dual purposes of satisfying reader needs and advancing a culture's goal of a literate population." (Bill Crowley, from his 2005 journal article "Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service") [Citation |last = Crowley |first = Bill |title = Rediscovering the History of Readers Advisory Service |journal = Public Libraries |volume = 44 |issue = 1 |page = 37 |year = 2005]


Direct readers' advisory

Direct readers' advisory is based on a non-judgmental assessment of the personal preferences of the reader through a series of questions, called a reference interview. The assessment focuses on reader likes and dislikes with regard to a number of factors, including, subject, reading level, genre, writing style, the level of characterization, plot elements, storyline, pace, tone, frame, and setting. The hoped-for outcome of this interview is the identification of three or more appropriate suggestions (sometimes referred to as "readalikes"--especially when the interview was initiated by patron interest in new authors/titles similar to one enjoyed in the past). In identifying suitable suggestions, a readers' advisor combines personal knowledge of material with a variety of specialized print and online resources to come up with appropriate suggestions. It should be emphasized that the goal of direct readers advisory is to "suggest" titles based on a readers' individual interests and tastes. Librarians who simply recommend their favorite books with little or no regard for the patron's own interests are not performing readers' advisory.

For example, if a patron requests "a good book," the readers' advisor might ask the reader to describe a book they have enjoyed. The focus of the conversation is not on recitation of plot, but on the aforementioned appeal elements (i.e. pace, subject, tone, writing style, etc). In our example, the patron tells the readers' advisor of a humorous mystery novel with a sharp-tongued female protagonist. Our readers' advisor also learns that the patron prefers fast-paced dialogue to excessive descriptive passages. Once the appeal elements have been identified (i.e. a humorous mystery featuring snappy dialogue and a female protagonist), the readers' advisor will suggest appropriate titles in the collection by drawing on personal knowledge and/or by consulting appropriate print and online resources. Even though the patron requested a mystery, a skilled readers advisor will often offer a suggestion or two that point the reader to new a new vista outside of a mentioned genre or milieu.

Readers' advisory can also be performed across multiple media. For example, a patron who likes the movie "Matilda" might be unaware that it is based on a book by Roald Dahl. Other patrons who enjoy audio books may be introduced to other titles read by the same person.

Questions to consider asking in the readers' advisory interview

In the 2005 edition of "Readers' Advisory Services in the Public Library", Joyce Saricks lists some questions for advisors to consider, such as:

*Are characters and plot quickly revealed or slowly unveiled? (Identifying Pacing)
*Is there more dialogue or more description? (Identifying Pacing)
*Is there a focus on a single character or on several whose lives are intertwined (Identify Characterization)
*Is the focus of the story more interior and psychological or exterior and action oriented? (Identifying Story Line)

Indirect readers' advisory

Indirect readers' advisory involves the creation of displays, bookmarks, and annotated book lists that a reader/patron can pick up and peruse on their own without actively engaging a readers' advisor. Indirect readers' advisory aids, particularly annotated book lists, focus on appeal elements rather than providing extensive plot summaries. Recently, some public libraries (like the [ Williamsburg Regional Library] in Virginia) have begun experimenting with form-based readers' advisory, which allows for a richer indirect readers advisory experience.

Maintaining a Staff Recommendations display is another way to improve a library’s readers’ advisory service. Since many readers are browsers, staff recommendations make it easier to select a book. [Citation |last = Nottingham |first = Julie |title = Doing It Right: A Reader’s Advisory Program |periodical = Reference and User Services Quarterly |volume = 41 |issue = 4 |page = 338] Citation |url ='_advisory |accessdate = 2008-07-24 (Content is available under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2)]

In their 2001 article "Reader's Advisory: Matching Mood and Material," Ross and Chelton recommend placing books in four areas of the library in order to make the most of merchandising. These four areas are the entrance, the ends of stacks, high traffic areas, and the circulation desk. [Citation |last = Ross |first = C. S. |last2 = Chelton |first2 = M. K. |title = Reader's advisory: Matching mood and material |periodical = Library Journal |volume = 126 |issue = 2] Placing the display in these areas ensure that patrons will see and, hopefully, utilize the books on display. Ross and Chelton also note that books, not posters and announcements, should be here because merchandised titles will circulate very quickly.

Discussion of Readers' Advisory Resources

There are numerous books, online subscription databases, and websites dedicated to readers' advisory.

Print Resources

Popular print resources include the "What Do I Read Next?" series of reference books (published by Thomson Gale), the "Genreflecting" series (published by Libraries Unlimited), and the "Readers' Advisory Guides" (published by the American Library Association). Seattle Librarian Nancy Pearl achieved broad fame and recognition for her readers guides, "Book Lust" [ [ Book lust : recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason [ ] ] and "More Book Lust" [ [ More book lust : recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason [ ] ] , which recommend "reading for every mood, moment, and reason." Both have been popular with the general public and can be found at most book stores and libraries. Also of note are Pearl's guides to contemporary fiction: ' [ [ Now read this a guide to mainstream fiction, 1978-1998 [ ] ] and ' [ [ Now read this II : a guide to mainstream fiction, 1990-2001 [ ] ]

Internet Resources

* [ Fiction_L] is the Morton Grove Public Library's electronic mailing list for readers' advisory discussions, developed by Roberta S. Johnson and the Reader's Services staff of the library. The List encompasses fiction, as well as "all aspects of reader's advisory for children, young adults and adults, including non-fiction materials." Many booklists discussed on the listerv are indexed on the library website, in the following categories: Genre, Character, Setting, Subject, Author, Audience, "Best of," and Miscellaneous. [ [ MGPL Webrary® - Booklist Index ] ] The list is a powerful resource for a worldwide community of librarians and other readers, because of its accessibility and searchable archives. Given some basic information, almost every inquiry receives a response, often within minutes. [Citation |last = Saricks |first = Joyce |year = 2005 |title = Readers' Advisory service in the Public Library |edition = 3rd |place = Chicago |publisher = American Library Association |pages = 19-20]
* [ Booklist Online] "delivers highly searchable and creatively linked reviews, columns, and features—all designed to help users find exactly the right book."
* [ ALA Recommended Reading] compiles different reading lists for all ages, especially children and teens. Most lists are available on the ALA web site.
*LibraryThing is a social networking website for cataloging and sharing personal and institutional library collections. The site contains a "Suggester" feature which provides book recommendations based on user catalogs with similar books. The broader your catalog, the more specific suggestions you will receive.
* [ What's Next] is a free resource from the Kent District Library System in Michigan that helps users in finding quality series fiction. "A series is two or more books linked by character(s), settings, or other common traits." [ [ KDL What's Next Database ] ]
*Some libraries have developed online indirect readers' advisory websites based on specific titles, series, or authors. For example, the Allen County Public Library's "Lemony Snicket Read-Alikes and Supplements" page answers the question of 'what to read next' with annotated book lists based around different genere and stylistic aspects of the series (mystery books [ [ Lemony Snicket Read-Alikes and Supplements ] ] , books about "Orphans or kids living without much help from adults," [ [ Lemony Snicket Read-Alikes and Supplements ] ] humorous books [ [ Lemony Snicket Read-Alikes and Supplements ] ] ). They also refer readers to non-fiction works on related topics from the "Lemony Snicket" series. For example, the book "Using Ropes and Knots" is recommended because

"In The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First) Violet Baudelaire found herself in the unfortunate circumstance of trying to rescue her baby sister Sunny from a perilous perch. Violet was able to invent a grappling hook and attach it to a rope with the proper knot. It will be unfortunate if you do not read this book and you find yourself trying to rescue your baby sister." [ [ Lemony Snicket Read-Alikes and Supplements ] ]


Reading and/or maintaining a readers’ advisory blog for a library can be beneficial for both patrons and librarians. Patrons gain access to book reviews and recommendations and librarians stay current on new releases and improve their readers’ advisory skills. [Citation |last = Cords |first = Sarah Stat |date = 2005-12 |year = 2005 |title = Readers' Advisory in the Blogosphere |periodical = Reader’s Advisor News |publisher = Libraries Unlimited |url = |accessdate = 2008-07-25] [Citation |url ='_advisory |accessdate = 2008-07-25 (Content is available under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2)]
* [ The Early Word] is a blog run by Nora Rawlinson and Fred Ciporen that includes loads of reading lists as well as links to news on upcoming releases and reviews.
* [ Readers' Advisor Online blog] from Libraries Unlimited offers essential news, tips, fun stuff, and a community for exploring RA issues.
* [ Readers' Advisory for All blog]


* [ Read Me]
* [ Book Lust Community]
* [ ALA Reader's Advisory Committee]
* [ Readers' Advisory Services]
* ['_Advisory Readers' Advisory - Professionaltips - ALA ]
* ['_advisory LISWiki - Readers' advisory] (Library and Information Science Wiki)


* [ The Florida Ask a Librarian Service] provides live, real-time chat with librarians throughout the state, offering reference services which include readers' advisory.

Popular subscription databases

*NoveList Plus (from EBSCO) [] . A 1999 article from Library Journal describes NoveList as "a reader's paradise and a reference librarian's dream." [Citation |last = LaGuardia |first = C |date = 1999-08 |year = 1999 |periodical = Library Journal |publisher = American Library Association |volume = 124 |issue = 13 |page = 152] The database serves fiction readers of all ages, with extra resources for school library media specialists. Users can search by author, title, subject, series name, plot (plot actions, time periods, locations), and advanced boolean searches. The database includes full text access to annotations, book reviews, awards, and links to author websites.

*FictionConnection (offered by Bowkers) allows you to explore books through topic, genere, setting, character, location, and timeframe.

* [ The Readers' Advisor Online] is another subscription database that includes all the volumes in Libraries Unlimited's well-known "Genreflecting" series as well as selected essays from "The Readers' Advisor's Companion", "Nonfiction Readers' Advisory", and more. []

ee also

*Book discussion club
*Book Talks promote books, including background information on the author and press reviews.
*Literary awards are often used in readers' advisory.
*Literature Circles

External links

* [ Readers' Advisory Link Farm]
* [ Google directory of readers' advisory sites]
* [ "Adult Education Resources for Librarians"] by Kathleen de la Peña McCook and Jillian Gilbey



*"Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests." 6th ed. Herald, Diana Tixier and Wayne Wiegand. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2005.

*"Reading Matters". By Catherine Sheldrick Ross and others. Libraries Unlimited, 2006. ISBN 1-59158-066-8.

*"Readers' Advisory Services in the Public Library" Joyce G. Saricks American Library Association, 3rd ed.

*"Recommended Readers' Advisory Tools.” "Reference & User Services Quarterly". 43.4 (2004):294-305. 4 Apr. 2005.

*"Reader's Advisory Service in North America Public Libraries 1870-2005: A History and Critical Analysis" by Juris Dilevko , Candice F.C. Magowan. McFarland, 2007.

*"The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction", by Neal Wyatt. Chicago: ALA editions, 2007.

*"Non-Fiction Readers' Advisory". Robert Burgin, ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

*"The Reader's Advisor's Companion". Kenneth D. Shearer & Robert Burgin. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2001.

Children's and Young Adult Reading

*"Best Books for Children : Preschool Through Grade 6", by Catherine Barr. 8th ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006.

*"Best Books for High School Readers : Grades 9-12" / John T. Gillespie, Catherine Barr. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

*"Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers: Grades 6-9", by John T. Gillespie and Catherine Barr. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004. []

*"Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers: Grades 6-9, Supplement to the First Edition" by John T. Gillespie and Catherine Barr. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. []

*"Best Books for Young Adults, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)", Edited by Holly Koelling. 3rd ed. Chicago: ALA, 2007. []

*"Beyond Picture Books: Subject Access to Best Books for Beginning Readers", by Barbara Barstow, Judith Riggle, and Leslie Molnar. 3rd ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2008. []

*"More Outstanding Books for the College Bound, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)". Chicago: ALA, 2005. []

*"Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers", by Teri S. Lesesne. Portland, Me. : Stenhouse Publishers, 2006. []

*"The Newbery and Caldecott Awards 2007: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books, 2007 Edition / Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)". Chicago: ALA, 2007. (Revised annually) []

Older Adults

(G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, and the Baby Boomers)

*Ahlvers, A. (2006). "Older Adults and Readers' Advisory. "Reference & User Services Quarterly", 45(4), 305-312.


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