Friday, July 01, 2016

The Future of Readers' Advisory

At the dawn of health care reform in the US, the public can see the library not only as a source of information but also as a source for healing.  Liz Brewster, in her infinite knowledge of bibliotherapy, reminds us that “mental health is a continuum” (2009, 13) and recommends that libraries consider training staff on mental health issues “to help them provide a better service to all users and to help create a wider understanding of the potential for bibliotherapy schemes…The simple presence of the schemes in a location accessible to all helps to reduce the stigma attached to mental health problems” (Brewster 2008, 174).  Most of the ideas suggested were practices that are already in place in various reference and readers’ advisory services; however, there were two suggestions that stood out:
  1. better training for librarians running reading groups to enable them to encourage participants to express their feelings about literature.
  2. challenging the stigma in society about mental health problems by creating reader development displays containing books about mental health (Brewster 2009, 16).
It is a common readers’ advisory practice to garner a sense of the patron’s wellbeing when suggesting a title for pleasure reading.  I am proposing that we take it a step further.

In the 1980s, during the “readers’ advisory renaissance,” Joyce Saricks and Nancy Brown published the first edition of Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library, where they “developed and promulgated the concept of using appeal to make connections between authors and titles.  The idea of appeal has been at the center of RA practice ever since and continues to be applied and shaped in new ways” (Trott 2008, 132).  However, David Beard and Kate Vo Thi-Beard point out that “the emphasis on the description of the book is a weakness in the current model of readers advisory” (Trott 2008, 332).  Genre lines are blurring, rendering its use as a “defining tool in the practice” obsolete and unreliable (Trott 2008, 133).  Everything can be labeled and “genrefied” as authors are experimenting more with pushing genre boundaries, especially with using appeal factors as sub-genres and including more crossover or “genreblending” within their stories.  Hannah Jo Parker, author of the Mainstream Fiction chapter in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests, 7th ed., finds that “fiction readers are not usually looking for a book on a specific subject or with particular plot details.  Instead, readers are more interested in the feeling that a book invokes and the overall quality of the reading experience” (Parker 2013, 391).   In addition to appeal factors and genre labels, I am proposing that how a book makes you feel be a major consideration when selecting a title for a patron.

In her article, "Bringing Reader's Advisory into the Blended Reference Scenario," Loriene Roy suggests paying further attention to readers and their intent for reading helps when offering both read-alikes and “read-abouts, or titles that would promote deeper reading on subject areas introduced in the title” (Roy 2010, 356-357).  Editor of Readers’ Advisory, Barry Trott writes “In addition to the concerns of story, setting, mood, language, and character, audiobook advisory requires a knowledge and sensitivity to things such as the narrative voice, reading style, where the auditor plans to listen to the recording, and what sort of media format the auditor needs and desires” (Trott 2008, 133).  So instead of focusing primarily on what people read, we should also focus on why they read and how they read.  Furthermore, in their article, “Rethinking the Book: New Theories for Readers’ Advisory,” David Beard and Kate Vo Thi-Beard advise that when dealing with an extended and more in-depth reference interview, “we should be prepared to connect their reading to other literate and social activities” (Trott 2008, 335).  By pushing the boundaries of traditional reference and readers’ advisory services, we can connect stories with readers on a deeper level.

With budgets being slashed across the board, partnering with other organizations in the community to provide resources and services seems like an obvious solution for libraries to remain relevant in the eyes of its service population.  I firmly believe that by understanding the basics and even implementing some of the techniques, that incorporating aspects of bibliotherapy into library services, especially in regards to readers’ advisory, will only add value to the library, remind people of the importance of books, and re-inspire the never-ending joy of reading.