Good Books – Lessons in Readers’ Advisory

“Do you have any good books?” If you’ve worked at a reference desk in a public library, you are all too familiar with this frustrating question.

Having worked in a public library now for a little over a year, I feel somewhat more equipped to handle it, but I still struggle from time to time. Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned to deal with this question.

The reference interview. This is where I ask my prerequisite questions I ask before moving any further. What types of books do you like? Is there a time or setting you have in mind? What have you read recently? I colleague of mine always asks kids what kinds of movies they like, since kids often don’t remember the titles of books they’ve read, or they might be with their parents who are trying to get them to read more.

Suggest bibliographies. My library creates themed bibliographies on topics like Biographic Fiction, LGBTQ+ themes (fiction and nonfiction), Easy Reads, Spy fiction, and almost twenty more. If your library doesn’t have anything like this, take the initiative to make some!

Make your own lists. Often books on those bibliographies are checked out, which is a blessing and a curse when you have someone in front of you. (See, these books are good, people like them! They’re so good they’re all checked out…) I made my own list of less popular books that I can recommend for topics like “Oh I just want something light and easy” (in French and in English, since I work in a public library in Montreal). A lot of those tend to be books about bookshops, but that might be my own preference coming through.

Google is your friend. Honestly, I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me a book they read that I had never heard of, so I just google “books like…” Maybe not the most information professional way of handling this, but what can I say, it works!

Goodreads is also your friend. This is a somewhat more reputable source, and the Goodreads lists can be helpful for people who want the basics of a new genre. However, many of the lists have popular books, so I’ve come across the same problem as the books on the bibliographies – they’re all checked out.

Know your collection. Using Google and Goodreads only gets you so far if you don’t have many of those books in your collection, or if they are available at another branch, but the patron wants to bring home a book because they have a flight the next day. This is something that really just comes with time and making an effort to see what books you have through reading the bibliographies, or helping update MARC records.

Have fun! If you have managed to find yourself working in a public library, odds are you love books. And if you’re anything like me, you love sharing your love of books. Readers’ Advisory can be frustrating because you often have no way to know if the patron actually enjoyed what you suggested. But sometimes, a patron remembers that you recommended a book to her that she loved, so she gives you a zucchini she just picked from her plot in the community garden that is the size of an infant (true story – I had zucchini bread for weeks).

To finish it off, here are some of my go-to “light and easy” RA recommendations!

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

Paris is Always a Good Idea – Nicolas Barreau

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

What are some of your go-to books you recommend? How do you handle the dreaded “do you have any good books” question?

Cover image from Pexels under CC0

Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks

2 replies

  1. Yes! This happens to me all the time at my high school library. I also tend to ask student’s what movies or tv shows they like and make recommendations on that, because sometimes when I have asked what books they liked they said they didn’t like books, but need one for reading time in their class.
    I have one student who always comes up and says, “I need a book.”
    Me: “what kind of book.”
    Student: “a book”
    After having this conversation a few times, and literally pulling information out of him, I finally have ideas for what he wants and likes, but he still always starts with, “I need a book.”

    Liked by 1 person

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