Get way, way better at Reader's Advisory

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funniculeeProbably one of the more important parts of my job...

...and I don’t feel like I achieve it adequately.

Several reasons for this:
1. As a kid, once I graduated from picture books, I mostly read weird stuff. Dabbled briefly in the standard Babysitters Club, and I think I read ONE Nancy Drew (hate Nancy Drew for some reason). And I did love Bruce Coville. But most of the books I read and loved were either older children’s novels (The Moffats, Betsy and Tacy, etc.), weird teen scifi (William Sleator FTW!), and adult pulp fiction.

2. It’s been over 20 years since I was reading mainly kids’ books (I switched to adult/teen fiction pretty dang early).

3. Readers’ Advisory is hard. It’s especially hard with kids, because often they’re too shy to give you helpful feedback, or can’t remember any books they’ve ever read and liked, or have NEVER read any books they’ve liked…

4. As a new librarian, I wasn’t the purchaser of most of the items in my fiction collection and I’m not actively making use of it as I do with the picture book collection. So I have a hard time remembering what’s there sometimes.

Anyhow, Readers’ Advisory seems important to me. Librarians that do it well provide a service you can’t get many other places. And it’s one of the ways I can really serve patrons directly – whether the interaction is positive or negative, it’s those sort of connections that create repeat patrons…or not.

What I’m doing well already:
1. I’m not judgmental about which books kids should be reading (although as I write this I just realized that I need to get over myself when it comes to the Rainbow Magic series and other girly junk like that – have a hard time talking about these enthusiastically).

2. I’m pretty good about relating to kids in general. I try to have a genuine smile and say hi to all the kids that come into my section, whether they’re shy or not. I think have an OK grasp on what things kids get excited about.

What I need to improve on:
1. Start writing/practicing 30 sec-2 min booktalks. I initially thought that I would just start rereading my fiction books, but that’s not going to happen. What I can do is speed-read/take notes on series, so I can start to get better at “selling” the books to kids. I can do this fine, just not off the cuff yet.

2. Figure out how to deal with content issues/problems. I hate this issue, and it comes up all the time. RA interviews with kids are often really kid/parent RA interviews. And so often the kids say something like “ooh! Something with fighting and magic and adventure and danger and gross-outs!” and then the parents say something like “But no language or bad themes or violence or tastelessness or…”.

Damn, do I ever hate this. Because first of all, it’s really impossible to read every single book and ensure there’s no cussing or violence or dark themes or bad ideas – even in the kid’s section there might be some cussing (and have you READ the Chronicles of Narnia? Lots of bloodshed!). Second, everyone’s standards are different. Third, it really goes against my own personal ethics to shelter kids from books this way. Kids will be exposed to all of this bad stuff sooner or later, and ONE CENTRAL PURPOSE OF LITERATURE is to allow us to confront darkness in a safe way. It’s not so much about protecting kids as it is protecting parents from having to have difficult conversations with their children. Fourth, THE BOOKS THAT THE KIDS MOST WANT TO READ ARE THE ONES THEIR PARENTS WOULD OBJECT TO.

Rant over. What I need is some response I can offer that will short-circuit this sort of parental statement and encourage them not to write off awesome books with some problematic content, or some rating/content resource I can refer them to so I don’t have to make so many judgment calls on the content of books.

3. Find some books about RA that are NOT the same ol’ introduction followed by booklists. I know it’s not a skill you can teach via book, but if I see one more book of booklists (that isn’t Nancy Pearl’s, I make an exception for her), I think I’ll scream. Then cry. Then scream.

4. Any librarians who do RA want to chime in on how they do it? 3 years ago

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