Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reader Advisory

A big term in the library world is reader advisory. Basically, it's an all-encompassing term for suggesting or referring a library patron to a particular book or author. Say, for example, someone comes up and checks out the Harry Potter series for 97th time. Using their fantastic powers of reader advisory, a librarian might suggest other authors like Christoper Paolino, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Roald Dahl, or John Bellairs along with the Harry Potter.

Although not a complicated concept at all, it's been talked about at least a little bit in every class in grad school I've had so far and it's often used to justify the very existence of both libraries and librarians. Even though I'm just a schlub checking out books at the circulation desk these early days in my career, I'm still expected to do my part. So much so that it's one of the questions in my yearly performance evaluation. It's also one of the reasons I want to be a librarian. I love finding out about new authors, and I love suggesting them to other people I think might be open to them. People are often taken aback, though, whenever I just approach them randomly on the street offering reading advice.

A woman came up to the check out desk this evening who reshaped how I think about this whole concept. She was in her early 40's, dressed in a sweatsuit that looked like it was made more for fashion than to actually work out in. Coiffed, frosted hairShe walked up to the checkout desk somewhat hesitantly, and then dumped an armload of 15 paperbacks onto the desktop. They were all romances, with titles like Enduring Passion and Desires of the Lonely.

"I'm a bit embarrassed to be checking out books like these," she said.

"You shouldn't be," I replied. "Lots of people check them out all the time."

She shook her head. "I'm normally a book snob. But I haven't been sleeping well lately. I don't know why, but these are the only things that help me get through the night."

I paused a moment and said, "There's something to be said for formula books. There's turmoil and tragedy throughout, but you know while reading it that by the end everything will work out. There's a lot of comfort in that."

I put her books in a recycled plastic bag and then handed them to her.

She mouthed "Thank you," to me and smiled as she walked off. A strange sense of relief seemed to shine out of her.

Personally, I don't care much for romance novels. Even most well-written ones bore me to tears. I could have suggested some high-end lit with some romantic plot lines. But that wasn't what she was looking for. She just wanted to know that it was okay to check out those bodice rippers and that I, lowly check out boy, wouldn't look down my nose at her. Sometimes I guess the best advice you can give is to just affirm what they are doing is okay.


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