I’ve had a couple of conversations in the library Twittersphere about Reader’s Advisory, and the lack of training we had in our Library School programs. I do remember having some brief training on doing reference interviews during my basic reference class. The thing I remember most from it was that it’s important to ask a lot of clarifying questions, because a lot of patrons either aren’t entirely sure what they want or won’t be able to articulate it sufficiently on their own. Which might be a rather condescending attitude to have when working with adult patrons, but it does lend itself well to working with tweens. I do wonder, though, at the lack of training in RA. I thought perhaps it was because the program I attended was very heavily focused on academic (higher education) and business librarianship. From the conversations I’ve had, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
As a school librarian, I would have benefited greatly from some instruction on Reader’s Advisory. After 20 years of experience, I think I do fairly well, but it has taken me a while to get here. One thing in my favor is my love of reading books aimed at this interest level. I’ve read a good number of books, from a diverse group of authors and genres, and feel pretty comfortable recommending titles.
Some of the RA I do with my middle school students is fairly straightforward – for example, I have a number of students who only like one particular kind of book and need help branching out. Discussing their interests, after school activities, and what they enjoy doing for fun often yields enough information to introduce new titles and options to them. It’s also fun to be the person that explains to them that, although their teacher is requiring them to read a mystery for a book report, I can help them find one that is also horror, fantasy, etc. (which is what they really like.) I try to empower them by explaining how to use the advanced search function on the OPAC, but sometimes it helps if I’ve read the book and can do a little hand selling.
On the other hand, I sometimes get odd requests that take a little digging. I recently had a student come in asking for The Grapes of Wrath. After some conversation, it turned out that her class is studying the dust bowl and the Great Depression. I was able to help her search for something along those lines, and she left with Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. Then there was the student last week who wanted ‘books, you know, about teenagers.’ After some discussion, he finally said, “I don’t mean to be prejudiced or anything, but I want a book about kids who look like me” He’s African American. I found him several that I thought might appeal to him and then made sure I let him know that there is never anything wrong with asking for what you want.
I think where I may have benefited the most, however, from some training would have been in how to interpret student requests for information. And how to help them remember why they came to the library. I still remember my first year as a school librarian (in an elementary school.) A kindergarten student came in to the library and just stood at the desk smiling at me. I asked if he was there for a book (no) or on an errand for his teacher (yes.) Did he know what she wanted? No. This was before the days of intercom phones between classrooms, so I had to send him back with a brief questionnaire for his teacher. It turns out she had asked him to ask me for some old newspapers. Flash forward to today, when a sixth grade student walked into my office, handed me a printer cartridge, and said, “This is a printer cartridge.” Yes, yes it is. Sigh…some things never change.