In the pre-COVID days, few things would make me more anxious than an unknown patron walking up to my desk and asking for reader’s advisory on a particular topic or genre. Despite the fact that I love children’s books of all kinds, read hundreds of books a year, and will talk your ear off about my favorite authors unprompted, the words “Can you recommend…?” make my brain shut down. I immediately forget every book I’ve ever read, liked, or even heard of. If children’s librarians can get reader’s advisory-related stage fright, then I’ve got it in spades.
In the Before Times, my favorite method of reader’s advisory was to walk up and down the aisles with a patron, chatting with them about what books they like, and which ones they don’t, while I quickly scan the shelves for a title that will reboot my library brain.
Thanks to COVID, however, my library has been shut down to the public for almost a year now. I most often perform my reader’s advisory duties from home, over email or live chat. I’m more dependent on reader’s advisory tools than ever before, but keeping my knowledge organized and up-to-date is a challenge.
My Reader’s Advisory Tools
When my library is open to the public, we have several paper bookmarks for patrons with recommendations. We have one for each grade level, from kindergarten to middle school, and one for each of several popular genres.
– These are enormously popular with both kids and caregivers, who can carry them up and down the stacks and check off ones they’ve read.
– These are usable by our patrons even if I’m not around – no gatekeeping!
– Updating is slow and infrequent, because it involves manually looking up every title to make sure we still have plenty of copies, swapping out dated material, and then reprinting.
– With the library closed to the public, no one can currently access them.
Library Catalog Lists
My library system uses Bibliocommons for our catalog. If you’re not familiar with it, Bibliocommons has a neat feature that allows anyone with an account to make lists of books, complete with annotations. I’ve made all kinds of lists on Biblicommons, from diverse titles to readalikes to literacy tools.
– So many possibilities! I’ve got everything from a list of Percy Jackson read-alikes, to a list of my favorite rhyming picture books, to a list of every kids book I can think of written by a Native or Indigenous author.
– Every time I get a reader’s advisory question I freeze up on (picture books featuring mixed race families? Middle grade fiction that features a positive and conflict-free parent-child relationship?), I make a list for it. That way, I’ve got a resource for next time.
– Updates to an individual list are quick and easy.
– I have hundreds and hundreds of lists, which are both unwieldy to quickly search through, and difficult to keep updated.
ALSC Book Lists
ALSC has a wide variety of recommended book lists. The award winners are a great place to start, but ALSC also has book lists on tough topics, gender identity, immigration, and so much more. These are quick and easy resource to trust.
Goodreads is what I use in my personal life, where I log all the books I read, and sometimes review them (though most often I don’t).
– I can skim through recent titles I’ve read to jog my memory on the newest books to recommend.
– I can make lists here as well (though I admit I’ve stopped doing this, because it’s time consuming)
– I prefer to show my patrons how to use the library’s website, instead of outside services
– Because I used this in my personal life, in-person patrons can see everything I’m reading, even books I’d prefer to keep private.
I’m including this one because it is something my library system offers, and I know lots of library staff find it useful. However, I find that many of their recommendations just aren’t what my patrons want. I might need to do more work to use this service well.
What Are Your Favorite Reader’s Advisory Tools?
How do you maintain and organize your reader’s advisory knowledge? Do you use a website, good old-fashioned pen and paper, or can you store it all in your mind like a wizard? Have you added new reader’s advisory tools to your kit due to COVID?
Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is currently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials