Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Stalking the Wild Appeal Factor: Readers' Advisory and Social Networking Sites

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Stalking the Wild Appeal Factor: Readers' Advisory and Social Networking Sites

Article excerpt

Readers' advisory (RA) services have always been about building a two-way line of communication between a reader and the readers' advisor. The whole premise of contemporary RA practice rests on the idea that the advisor comes up with suggestions for a reader by listening carefully to how that reader experienced a book or author that they particularly enjoyed. Armed with that understanding, the advisor can then make reading suggestions that go beyond the basic matches of genre or subject. In this way, RA service has always been a "2.0" service. The Library 2.0 movement is centered on using technology to build a more user-focused library and to promote the development and expansion of communities into the virtual world. In the following article, Kaite Mediatore Stover explores some of the prominent book-focused social networking sites and begins the discussion of how these resources, being used by millions of readers, can be incorporated into our RA practice. Along the way, Stover examines the way that readers' advisors can use reader tagging of titles to expand our vocabulary of appeal. Kaite Mediatore Stover is the head of Readers' Services for Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library. She also is a columnist with Booklist, writes for the Booklist Online Book Group Buzz blog, and is a contributing writer for NoveList.--Editor

Just when readers' advisors everywhere thought they'd assigned taxonomic ranks to libraries' jungle of bookshelves holding books of every spot and stripe, along comes another new set of shelves needing taming.

First, Melville Dewey gave library staff a system that separated all the reading material by subject area. Then Nancy Pearl and Joyce Saricks further separated the bibliophylums with genre definitions and other elements of appeals, making the species eminently more identifiable to the modern book watcher. Library staff were pleased. Our shelves, it seemed, were ordered, classified, separated, and manageable.

But, just as things seemed to be comfortable, librarians discovered a new online unit of shelves with critters that looked familiar, but were behaving in ways that librarians hadn't quite seen before. The books had the same names, but they were being classed into subgenres, idiosyncratic lists, and cross-pollinated species that defied logic. They weren't being organized by the professionals, but by the readers. Clearly, some form of order needed to be restored, but it would require keepers and visitors to work together to build a system both could use to the most benefit.

Few would argue that the Internet is one big jungle, and navigating it occasionally requires a machete, not a mouse. Conducting a successful readers' advisory conversation with a reader can be akin to slashing one's way through adjectival vines as tangled as "well written," "good story," and "not boring." Yet the moment those brave new explorers of the social Web went searching for readers, librarians knew they had to follow curious Stanleys to even curiouser Livingstones.


Readers' advisory (RA) is one of the most social services libraries offer. It's no surprise that talking about books so easily made the leap to the Internet. This discussion is a natural extension of the readers' advisory conversation. "The entire point of RA is to reach readers.... Library 2.0 tools play to the strengths of RA work and can deepen and broaden the interaction, introduce new ways of connecting books to other items, and enable librarians to enlist the entire community of readers in the collaborative creation of RA services for everyone." (1)

Many library staff will tout the in-person RA interview as the best way to determine what a reader wants in the next book he or she wants to read. In a face-to-face interview, the advisor is privy to tones of voice, facial expressions, and some level of enthusiasm or disdain for a particular type of book. Still others swear by in-depth questioning through reader profile forms, either in print or online. …

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