Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Adult Readers' Advisory Services through Public Library Websites

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Adult Readers' Advisory Services through Public Library Websites

Article excerpt

Throughout America's public libraries, recreational reading is booming, with fiction accounting for an average of 66 percent of the print circulation and 80 percent of the e-book usage in public libraries in 2013. (1) Naturally enough, many librarians have sought to improve services to their adult recreational readers by emphasizing readers' advisory services, which "connect readers with the stories that enrich their lives and our world." (2) "Because leisure pursuits are still the most common rationale for public library visits in this information-centric age," writes May, "it makes sense for libraries to court their most important constituency--recreational readers. One way to fulfill this mission would be to renew the emphasis on providing readers' advisory services." (3)

Readers' advisory services have enjoyed a renaissance in public libraries since the 1980s. (4) But has that renaissance translated to public library websites?

Library websites serve as "the public face of the institution" and provide extensive information and library services to patrons who never set foot into a physical branch. (5) Public library websites also serve as a resource for users who do patronize their community libraries in person, alerting them to the services, events, and resources that will be available to them when they visit. Librarians recognize the importance of delivering services through the digital channels to which users are accustomed--including, potentially, readers' advisory services. (6) This study explores the confluence of those ideas: If readers' advisory is important in public libraries, and a well-designed online presence is important for public libraries, what is the current state of practice in bringing adult readers' advisory online?


Providing readers' advisory (RA) information and services online offers many advantages to library patrons. Much like virtual reference, online RA is likely to appeal to patrons because of the privacy and convenience it affords. Some patrons who are reticent about approaching in person may be particularly drawn to this option. (7) "Noninvasive" online forms allow librarians to provide reading guidance to patrons in an "efficient, low-pressure" way. (8) Online RA can also offer librarians an opportunity to provide better service. While the in-person readers' advisory conversation sometimes feels rushed, causing librarians to recommend the books they can find or recall most quickly instead of the ones that are best matches, online RA can be more deliberate, allowing advisors to consult with their colleagues and peruse appropriate tools without stress. (9) In addition, creating an online presence for RA services inherently serves to promote them: Patrons in the stacks may be unaware that any reading guidance is available, but could learn of it if they visit a library website that highlights it. (10) Online RA, therefore, can be used as both a service itself and also a form of outreach to website visitors about the library's suite of RA services. Finally, in addition to promoting the readers' advisory service, online RA can be used to promote the contents of a library's collections, bringing attention to books that might otherwise go overlooked. (11)

Although a standard vocabulary is not universally employed, most recommendations for online readers' advisory services distinguish between various forms of "one-way" communication and "interactive" approaches to RA (and consequently to website design). Newman divides online readers' advisory techniques into two categories, static and dynamic, with static techniques including book lists and reviews and dynamic including interactive forms. (12) Trott draws a similar distinction between "passive" and "active" RA techniques, applying those categories to both in-person and online services. (13)

Static, passive, or one-way techniques include any mechanisms by which libraries can share information or recommendations about books with their website users as a group (as opposed to techniques for providing recommendations to an individual). …

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