So Kristin was right, NetGalley has taken over my life. I love my baby librarian privilege of getting to read basically as many books as I possibly can (and responsibly, should not) in every free moment. Then realizing, I’m going to have to start some kind of blog to give feedback because they want my feedback. It is kind of great. I would say “I digress”, but technically this was a part of class last week… Three cheers for technicalities!
Anyways, that was a small blip in class last week that I really enjoyed having access to – it is the little things after all. Another little thing I still find intriguing about last class is our reference warm up, in which some students were patrons, others GChat contacts, and the third group researchers. It was a virtual reference format and I found myself torn between thinking that it would be easier face to face and the fact that face to face I don’t necessarily have all my RA Resources at my disposal. This tension was tied to the fact that I am unsure how long someone, especially a child (not the 23 year old master’s student that my group had as a patron), would be willing to wait for a simple book recommendation. We spend almost 15 minutes asking questions and trying to figure out what the patron wanted. I can see the patron getting easily frustrated in this situation, thinking something like “I just wanted the name of a book, why do you need to know my whole reading history and life story?”.
In retrospect, I realized that I was treating it like a research question. My process of dealing with those questions is to get as much information as humanly possible, making sure I understand the research subject, the objective, what the user has already found, what they hope to find, and what they actually want. All of those steps may not be necessary or even useful in a reader’s advisory capacity. In fact, within five minutes of GChat I had figured out that the patron wanted a children’s adventure book about eskimos. However, I drew out the interaction trying to determine their reading level. That is something I think would be much easier to determine in person. You can see roughly how old your patron is, get a handle on their vocabulary, and come to a basic understanding of what book would be appropriate to give them. Online, I found this very difficult.
However, online my researcher had access to a huge variety of resources to find books on certain subjects and reading levels. While I believe these resources to be valuable, there are a ton of adventure books for children (even a bunch with eskimos!). Seeing that variety, I felt like I had to still narrow my query down further to find the right book, when any of those would have been appropriate. I think it is important to remember that the patron isn’t generally asking for one specific book when they come to a reader’s advisory, they are asking for a type of book. There may be a bunch and in that case you can recommend a few, but there is no need to narrow it down further and waste the user’s if all those books fit with the type of book they want to find. The internet is a wealth of useful information, but sometimes there is simply too much. Face to face you probably have a few books that fit that criteria with no need to narrow down the search to narrow the results. Going online simultaneously renders the process of reader’s advisory easier and more complicated.
I guess what this all comes down to is being cognizant of what type of reference service you are being asked by the patron to preform. For me, my default is always research. A process that is generally understood to be in depth and take more time. If I am asked a reader’s advisory question and am mindful of what is being asked, I can use a different set of reference tools. This reader’s advisory set of tools is aimed at not finding a specific piece of information (like in research), but rather determining a broader set of criteria and using them to determine a few appropriate recommendations. This idea of being cognizant of the situation can be carried further to the type of library or even the makeup of the community you are in as well. Each will inform what the patron needs and therefore inform what set of librarian’s tools you require to meet this need.