Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Article Note: On Interactive Readers' Advisory

Citation for the article:

Hollands, Neil. "Improving the Model for Interactive Readers' Advisory Service." Reference and User Services Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 2006): 205-212.

Read in print, via workplace routing.

In essence, this article proposes an alternative to face to face readers' advisory. It does not advocate eliminating the traditional model, but it suggests the proposed method, using forms, can be superior in many ways. For librarians who are RA practitioners, this is an article worth reading.

The author highlights the Looking for a Good Book program at the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library, which provides the model for the author's discussion. The author does a good job or reviewing the common assumptions of traditional RA, and he then discusses how to implement the form-based RA.

The first assumption is that "readers will approach librarians with RA questions" (206). Personally, I don't think I would approach librarians at my local branch for RA. For one, I am pretty confident that I can find something good to read. However, I think the bigger issue is approachability. The librarians at the small reference desk don't seem very approachable for this purpose. Sure, any reference question, and I would be there. For RA, I am not so sure. It may be a "vibe" thing, or it may be I have never seen anyone approach that reference desk with RA assistance in mind.

The second assumption is that "the person approached with an RA question will be the right person for the job" (206). I think this is a good a good question to ask. I consider myself fairly well-read and informed about reading trends, but there are still genres that I am nowhere near an expert. This is just basic nature. I am like most librarians according to Hollands, that is, "talented generalists with areas of strength to which their attention gravitates" (206). I do know how to use the tools if need be, but a reader would want someone knowledgeable on the spot. I can see the author's point on this. We do need to keep the illusion. This comes from the fifth assumption: "resources needed by readers' advisors are easy to use in face-to-face discussion" (207). The illusion idea goes to credibility as readers have the impression we have read anything and everything.

The author also discusses briefly the traits a successful RA practitioner should have. I like the list, so I would like to note it here:
  • "Willingness to put aside personal bias and suggest books that fit readers."
  • "Knowledge of the style of many authors and interest in acquainting oneself with more."
  • "Understanding of the differences between genres."
  • "Familiarity with the print and digital tools available for researching books and authors."
  • "Skill in writing annotations that reflect the appeal factors of a book."
  • "Good communication skills and a desire to talk about books" (208).
I will admit that putting aside the personal biases may not be easy. It is very tempting to use our position to steer patrons into "better" reading. However, we are there to provide books that fit their reader needs and desires. Yet, I don't think we can be totally devoid of bias, or at least beliefs. Biases and beliefs are a part of who we are. I don't think we should totally forsake them, but we should not let them interfere with the work at hand.

The amount of RA that I do at work is minimal, but I strive to know about various authors and genres either by reading the works or using the tools to read about them. Online resources make this easier. You can learn about any genere via various well-made websites. Add to this resources like Genreflecting, and I can't see a reason for a librarian not to have at least a passing acquaintance with genres outside of their interest range. As for writing annotations, I think that is why I make notes on books I read in my blogs, a way to remind myself what I have read as well as get a sense of what the book was about in case someone asks. It is a skill that should improve with practice. In my case, I don't aim for a full review, just enough to have that sense of the book.

On sharing personal reading preferences, which the author also discusses, I cannot emphasize this enough. It is also something I wish my colleagues would do more. I happen to know one of my colleagues reads a good amount of YA literature as well as graphic novels, a genre I love as well. Otherwise, I am fairly clueless about the rest of my coworkers, and not necessarily for lack of prodding.

Here is another piece of advice I thought to be important:
  • "For each reader [referring to the responses from the advisor], try to mix well-known, well-publicized authors and books with some that are less familiar. Provide some responses that are right down the middle of the reader's interests, and some that encourage small stretches into new territory. This range of books should try to satisfy most of the readers likely tendencies and moods as shown by the form. Make sure all of the books you list are in your library's holdings" (211).
Moving to a different idea, I had an interesting thought when I read the author on archiving previous RA forms for documentation. My question was "what about privacy?" Do we really want a repository of what people are reading available in such a ready way? This was not addressed in the article, and yet, given the current climate, I have to wonder.


For another discussion of this article, see Rick Roche's post in his blog ricklibrarian. He raises additional questions about the service and possible implementation in a small setting.

On a serendipity note, our Web Librarian walks in as I am typing this note asking if we have a good answer to the question of "I need a history book [American] to read and review for my class." We get this every so often, and it is a variant of doing RA since you have to suggest something they may be remotely interested in reading and fits the scope of the class. There is no silver bullet to this one; it boils down to trying to find them something even when they answer your questions with "I am not interested in anything," which was the reply he got at the time. If nothing else, this assignment, and others like it, keep us on our toes.

No comments: