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Reader Advisory Services

July 9, 2009

The Portable MLIS: Insights From the Experts

Chapter 14: Readers Advisory Services: How to Help Users Find a “Good” Book by Mary K. Chelton

My first observation on this chapter is regarding the title. The intent of the use of quotation marks around good in the title wasn’t apparent to me before reading this chapter. Ms. Chelton covers that fairly quickly in this chapter by explaining what Reader Advisory Services used to set out to accomplish. It took the view that readers were seeking books to educate themselves or improve themselves somehow. RA services have evolved to what Chelton calls a more “egalitarian” state, where the librarian will “suggest” a book versus “recommending” a book. Much like beauty, I think a good book is in the eye of the beholder.

I had already read this chapter when I visited the Sidney Memorial Public Library for my librarian interview. After concluding my interview with Library Director Roz Conner, I took some time to observe the space and peruse their collection. One of the things that struck me was the number Reader Advisory Services they provided.

As an aspiring school media student, I spent extra time in the children’s wing and was extremely impressed with the RA offerings there. I left with eleven handouts suggesting books on topics ranging from Asperger’s/autism to divorce to moving. There was also a handout with tips on how to select books for your child. These handouts were prominently displayed on a kiosk along with program calendars and other literature. It was neat, accessible, and organized.

The adult section also had a number of the non-interactive services that Chelton described in this chapter. New book displays are located right inside the library entrance, definitely a high traffic area. Endcap displays featured books on certain topics – this month’s topics were “Beach Books” and “Cooking with Fresh Foods”. Because of the seasonal nature of these displays, I am guessing that they are rotated on a regular basis. Other endcaps featured particular authors or genres. The Friends of the Library group also provides BookPage, a monthly book review publication.

The surprising element of RA services is how similar they are to merchandising techniques employed in retail environments. Displays, endcaps, and shelf location have been proven to impact sales. Front end and high traffic areas in stores often help to stimulate impulse purchases, and Chelton advises libraries to utilize this shelf space to increase circulation.

I hope to someday work in a school library, and am excited at the prospect of matching children with books. I already do this in an informal way with my own three children, and finding a book or series that they particularly enjoy is very rewarding. I look forward to learning more about all the tools that can be used for RA services.

Chelton, M. K. (2008). Readers Advisory Services: How to Help Users Find a “Good” Book. In K. Haycock & B. Sheldon (Ed.), The Portable MLIS: Insights From the Experts (pp. 159-167). Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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