Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Two Simple Tricks for Reader’s Advisory

I live and breathe children’s books as a Children’s Librarian. I host a family book club, I coordinate our school district’s Battle of the Books, I place monthly book orders, and I read children’s books in my free time because I enjoy them. None of this literary knowledge populates in my brain when a patron asks me for help finding a book that they might enjoy reading. When I’m working on the children’s desk or walking the shelves, I wait in nail biting anticipation for this question because I’m afraid that I won’t have the perfect title to suggest and that it will make it look like I don’t know how to do my job.

I care about reader’s advisory because it is an artful skill that’s essential for fostering a lifelong love of reading and promoting curiosity. Reader’s Advisory is not only about being well-read, it’s also about knowing how to provide patrons with choices. Young patrons, especially, might not have the most helpful answers to the typical questions like “what do you like to read about?” or “what’s the last book you really enjoyed?”

I have found two simple tricks to ease my anxiety about stepping into the important role of being a literary guide for our young patrons.

There’s a simple question that I ask young patrons that unlocks a lot of information: “Do you like reading about real or imagined things?” Their answer pushes me toward either the fiction shelves or the nonfiction shelves. Their answer sends me looking for either fantasy or realistic books. If the child’s caregiver is with them, they often offer up more information at this point, as well. For example, “Oh, he loves reading about sharks” or “She loved the Nancy Drew books.” In my experience, this question splits the overwhelming vastness of children’s literature in half, and helps young patrons understand how to better describe their reading preferences.

Row of books

The other simple trick that I’ve found invaluable is to take some space away from the anticipating eyes of the patron. I’ll say something like, “I’m having a hard time thinking of specific titles. Let me walk around the shelves and see what sparks my memory.” This moment to walk the shelves allows me to collect my thoughts and see the titles that my brain couldn’t conjure under pressure. The other perk to this trick is that I can pull a few books off the shelves and return to the patrons with several choices.

My fellow librarians and I joke that people think we sit around and read all day. Since that isn’t the reality of our jobs, we can’t be expected to know our collections backwards and forwards and backwards again. When Reader’s Advisory questions come up, we might feel like we should have a card catalog in our minds, but the pressure to have that knowledge immediately accessible only makes it harder to serve the patron. Instead, we can use skills and tools to give our patrons choices while still maintaining professionalism as well as the image of a magical literary guide who can find anyone the perfect book.

Trisha Parsons is the Children and Family Services Librarian at the Clearview Library District. In addition to school outreach programs, she facilitates a family book club and a homeschool group.

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