Advising Readers Online: A Look at Internet-Based Reading Recommendation Services

By Trott, Barry | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Advising Readers Online: A Look at Internet-Based Reading Recommendation Services


Trott, Barry, Reference & User Services Quarterly


The past five years have seen a continued growth in the availability of reading resources on the Internet. While many of the pioneering resources, such as genre fiction Web sites and fan-built author sites, have been allowed to fade away by their creators, others have sprung up to take their place. Chelton has noted that the popularity of online reading clubs continues to grow. (1) Online booksellers and publishers are continuing to expand their resources to attract and support readers. Many publishers now provide reading group resources via their Web sites. In September 2003, the online bookseller Amazon.com added its "Search Inside the Book" service, allowing readers to search the full text of more than 120,000 titles and preview sections of selected titles, in his 2004 article in Information Today, O'Leary suggests that "Search Inside the Book" provides readers with a readers' advisory service that "joins Amazon's other clever readers helpers, including reviews, similar purchase lists, and customers' lists." (2)

This expansion of reading resources on the Internet has not been the sole responsibility of commercial entities or fan groups. Libraries have taken an active role in providing resources to their readers and to the broader reading community through the Internet from its inception, and they continue to expand their online reading resources in a variety of ways. It has become common for library Web sites to include a readers' advisory presence, although it is unfortunately often buried several clicks down in the site rather than being easily located. In the past few months on the readers' advisory electronic discussion list Fiction-L (subscribe at www.webrary.org/rs/ flsubunsub.html), several librarians have announced new readers' sections developed for their libraries' sites.

Much of the assistance that libraries have traditionally provided readers falls into the category of passive readers' advisory. Setting up book displays, providing reading lists on specific topics, focusing on readalikes for a popular author, labeling or separating out genre fiction, developing programs that focus on books and reading, and other activities all are part of the effort to aid readers in the task of finding a good book and to build support for the community of readers. These activities are particularly valuable in creating a welcoming feeling for readers in the library. The hope is that when librarians develop an environment that supports and embraces readers, these readers will then be more likely to take the next step, and actively seek direct reading assistance from the library staff. The shift from passive to active readers' advisory requires a greater effort on the part of the librarians. They must not only be able and willing to assist readers, but they must also actively take on selling readers' advisory service. As many articles and studies have noted, the best readers' advisors are out in the stacks offering assistance to readers rather than simply waiting behind the reference desk for someone to come to them. While passive readers' advisory is an essential part of the readers' advisory process as it provides tools that assist both the librarian and the reader, and can create an environment that promotes reading, it is not enough to ensure the library's place at the center of the community of readers. Libraries and librarians need to take an active role in seeking out opportunities to interact with readers and to engage them in talking about books. Too often, this is where libraries are less successful in providing a complete readers' advisory service to their users.

This same dichotomy exists in the online readers' advisory world within libraries. Many libraries have done an excellent job of providing online content. Libraries such as the Morton Grove (Ill.) Public Library (www. webrary.org) have led the way in building readers' Web sites that provide content and links to resources for readers. …

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