Reader’s Advisory 101

“Hi, can you help me find a book?”

It’s a pretty standard question in the library- one that we librarians get all the time. And yet, how we choose to answer that question, the questions we pose in response, even our body language and facial expressions, can determine whether the interaction simply ends with a book being circulated or whether we begin the process of building a relationship with that patron. A reader’s advisory interaction can be a uniquely powerful experience for both patron and librarian. When it comes to kids, this is doubly so. The kind of one-on-one attention that they receive from the librarian (an adult treating them with respect and patience who is not a parent or teacher) is a rather rare experience for most children. And it can be an empowering one- if we do it well.

Take a look at the following conversation:

Child: Hi, can you help me find a book?

Librarian: Sure. Do you know the title? Or author?

C: Uh, no.

L: Okay. Do you need a recommendation?

C: Yeah.

L: Okay, let’s see. Hmm…have you read Insert Your Current Favorite Title Here. It’s  fantastic! It is really one of my favorite books from this year. How about you try that?

C: Um, okay.

L: Great! Anything else I can help you with today?

C: No, thank you.

On the surface it would appear to be a successful transaction. Child enters the library wanting a book and leaves with a book. Good, right? In the above example the librarian got one circulation statistic but missed an opportunity to have a conversation, to listen, and to build a relationship with that young reader. Sometimes the difference is simply asking a few questions.

When training new children’s services staff in my library, we start with by teaching staff to begin with three foundation questions:

1) What grade are you in/ how old are you?

This question gives you a rough way to begin brainstorming age-appropriate selections. Kids these days are tall- don’t assume! Plus, kids typically like to talk about their age and upcoming birthday plans. It’s your first “in.”

2) What was the last book you read that you liked?

This can be adjusted to tv show or movies if the child is a truly reluctant reader. A great follow-up to this second question is “What parts did you like about the book?” That can help you zero in on qualities of their reading preferences that are not easily captured by genre. An example is Harry Potter. Some die-hard fantasy enthusiasts love HP, but many kids simply enjoy the boarding school stories.

3) Is this for an assignment?

It may seem a minor detail, but often school assignments come with guidelines and parameters. If they really love mysteries, but their assignment is to read a work of historical fiction, this is information you want to know. You might be able to surprise them by finding an historical mystery! The more you know about what they like and what they need, the better able you’ll be to find great reading choices.

Of course, these are just the basics. The long goal is larger than satisfying their need today for one book. With each RA interview, you’re building trust and getting to know your young patrons as readers. With time, you’ll find them coming back to the library seeking you out for another great suggestion.

What are your tips & tricks for doing reader’s advisory for children? Share them in the comments below!




  1. Stacy Dillon

    I always ask them what books they didn’t like as well. And I try to let th know that’s it’s okay to not like a book that their friends like or that I recommend. By knowing what doesn’t work for them, I can generally narrow in on what will!

  2. Jennifer

    I found that most of the kids couldn’t remember the title of the last book they read – and when their parents “helped” it was often a book they liked and the kids would be rolling their eyes behind their back. So I adapted the question to “what are you interested in?” and I string off a few things to get them started “sports, animals, stories about school, magic, ghosts, wars, dragons…” this usually gets a giggle out of them and then we can get going.

    1. Alison Eckes

      I also like that by asking kids what they’re interested in rather than the title of the last book they read, we’re acknowledging that the child in front of us may not like to read (yet!) or may be a reluctant reader. In other words, we’re not communicating an assumption or expectation that everyone reads and loves to read.

  3. Lisa

    My tip is to make all attempts to keep the parent from answering the questions! Parents will often interject, “Oh, he doesn’t want that!” or “That’s a fantasy. He only like sports books,” or something else that runs contrary to what the child is actually saying. I am polite, but try steadfastly to refocus the conversation on the child’s answers.

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