Thursday, July 15, 2010

Opinion: Reference vs. Reader's Advisory

Thanks to Liz, via Twitter I found out about a recent article in Library Journal called Reader's Advisory: Kissing Cousins. Hang in there and read the whole article, in spite of the lack of paragraph breaks, because it's eye-opening.

The upshot of the article is that for decades, reference librarians have resisted answering reader's advisory questions, due to either a lack of expertise in finding popular titles for patrons or because reader's advisory is not a "serious" pursuit for a degreed librarian.

All I can say to that is, Really?

Perhaps it's because I graduated from library school in 2000, a time cited as being past the strongest resistance to RA. Or maybe it's because I've primarily worked in children and young adult services, where reader's advisory is the bread-and-butter of the job. Even with that, though, I can't imagine working on any service desk, serving any patron group, and not responding to questions about "What do I read next?"

I will admit that since my expertise is in teen literature, I do have difficulty in helping patrons looking for adult fiction advisory. Since I work on the adult desk--not the children's desk--this does occur fairly often, especially now that summer is here and RA questions have increased dramatically. But even without having the same comfort level in helping adults look for books, I still have the techniques and tools to help patrons find a book, most of the time.

The article does indicate that the reference vs. RA mindset has changed quite a bit, and that it's part of the bigger overall picture that sees libraries constantly affected by change. Still, it was quite surprising to me to read about this historical attitude still having an impact on today's library service. I feel the same way about this as I did when I learned that libraries used to be anti-paperback: amazed about the opinions the library field once held, and pleased that we've learned to adapt to change. Because honestly, as the line goes, life is change. Libraryland is no different. What really matters, though, is how you handle the change; for the most part, libraries do a pretty good job at that, even if it sometimes takes us a while to get there.

What are your thoughts? Does anyone have experience working as reference only, with no RA questions permitted? I'd be curious to hear how that worked in a real library!


Katie said...

I’m currently in Library school and this issue is still being wrestled with. I actually have professors who refuse to see the value in RA, and don’t even consider it to be a librarian’s, especially a reference librarian’s job. I love it, our school offer’s a class on RA taught by Sharon Smith (kinda the be all end all of RA in Canada) and it just seems so pivotal to the future of libraries. I’m so glad I have those skills, and I can’t wait to put them to use, no matter what desk I’m at. : )

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I've taken one class for RA, but that was my children's lit class. There is an adult RA class offered as well. I often feel as though my library doesn't stress reader's advisory. I too split my time with the adult desk and YA space, and my knowledge area is tween and teen, but I have the tools to answer adult RA questions most of the time. I never can believe it when people who don't like to read work in a library or can't answer a reader's advisory question. That's my favorite part of my job and as the teen librarian, that's what I spend most of my time doing. It frustrates me that the adult desk doesn't have the same push. And really, as the only teen person at my branch, I push myself, it's not my system telling me I need to have this RA knowledge. We have some RA training sessions, but they're very basic and I honestly don't find them all that helpful. And I know many of our other teen staff don't read YA regularly or at all. I think it should be a required part of the job!

speak up! said...

As "just a teacher" and not a librarian or media specialist, I have a quick comment. There is almost nothing I like better than recommending books to my students who have learned to trust me over the course of the school year. It leads to conversation about author's style, plot variety, genre ("Is Maximum Ride fantasy or science fiction?")... all important topics for developing readers in middle school.

melissa said...

Katie: Wow--I had no idea that to RA or not to RA is so hotly debated! I admit that RA wasn't really covered in my Reference class in library school, but I don't think it was openly disdained. Interesting!

GreenBeanTeenQueen: For those of us who work with children and teens, I think there's less resistance to reader's advisory, since we're working with patrons who aren't always capable of using the tools that adults can use. But just because an adult can type or use a mouse doesn't mean they can use a database.

Speak Up!: Thanks for chiming in! And bravo for introducing your students to books and helping create readers. It's not just librarians and media specialists that do that--teachers play a huge role.