Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Readers, We're Ready to Advise You

Readers' advisory training: another facet of our year (and beyond!) of Reading Wildly. Last week, we had the awesome Suzanne Walker from the Indiana State Library visit our library to give a training on readers' advisory for youth. Some of my staff have had readers' advisory training and some haven't, but I wanted us all to be on the same page this year as we're striving to improve our readers' advisory through reading many different genres.

I'm a firm believer in providing a lot of training for staff and putting that training to use. I scheduled us so that all my staff could attend the training (we're lucky to have other staff in the building that don't mind occasionally covering our desk). And I attended the training, too, even though I took a course on readers' advisory in grad school. A refresher is never a bad thing! And I wanted to know what had been presented to my staff so that we could all talk about it.

What we learned at the training:

Suzanne pointed out some notable differences between readers' advisory for youth and for adults. Among them: 

  • Children and teens might have more difficulty articulating what they are looking for. Of course, sometimes adults have difficulty, as well, but children have less of a frame of reference. They also are still figuring out what kind of books they like, whereas many adults have particular genres or subjects that they gravitate towards. 
  • When dealing with children and teens, we have to think about reading level as well as subject and appeal factor.
  • We not only have to answer readers' advisory questions from children, but from their parents, as well. Sometimes we have to perform readers' advisory without the child being present. Suzanne highly recommended (and I agree) giving parents a selection of books to take home for their child when they come in asking for suggestions. 
Suzanne talked about the readers' advisory conversation (which can happen anywhere - how many of you librarians have been asked for readers' advisory at the eye doctor's, at church, or in the grocery store?). It's important that librarians are approachable, that we solicit information on what the child/parent is looking for, and use sources to find materials that match their mood. 

With kids, it's important to ask if they're looking for a book for fun or if they're looking for a book for a school assignment. If it's for a school assignment, get any other relevant information: does it have to be a certain page length? A certain genre? etc. And then proceed with your readers' advisory conversation. Even if it's for an assignment, hopefully we can find something that the child's going to enjoy. 

A somewhat standard way to start your readers' advisory conversation is to ask the kid what kind of book they're looking for or what book(s) they've read recently and enjoyed. For some kids, this might be a hard question to answer. Sometimes kids don't know what they want, or they're not big readers. If a kid's not able to tell you any books she's liked, ask about her hobbies and interests or what movies she likes. That will give you an idea of where to start your conversation. 

Suzanne also talked about appeal factors, which is definitely something we'll incorporate into our monthly book discussions. She listed four main appeal factors to think about while you're reading. Reading books with appeal factors in mind (and noting them if that helps you remember!) will help when you get down to your readers' advisory. 

Four Appeal Factors:

  • Pacing - Is the book an action-packed page-turner or is it more descriptive and contemplative? Does it have short sentences/chapters and/or does the story take place in a short amount of time (indicating that the book has a quick pace)?
  • Characterization - Do characters develop over time or are they types we recognize immediately? Is the focus on a single character or multiple characters? Often, kids get engaged with a character or set of characters and love to see multiple books about the same characters. 
  • Story line - Does the story emphasize people or situations/events? Is it action-oriented? Psychological? Does it deal with exterior action or interior (character development, etc.)?
  • Frame - What kind of setting does the book have? This can be especially important in historical fiction where a particular setting/time period might be a big appeal factor. 
Readers' advisory is all about making connections. It's about finding out WHY a person likes a book and figuring out what other books might have similar appeal factors. Just because a teen likes The Hunger Games doesn't necessarily mean she's all about bloody dystopian fiction. Maybe she likes the strong female protagonist or the excellent world-building. 

Putting this training into action:

So, we had the training. Now, how are we going to put this into action? Of course, I'm hoping that my staff will put what we learned into practice right away with patrons, but I know that formal readers' advisory training is new to many of them. Incorporating these elements into our monthly Reading Wildly meetings will, I hope, allow staff to become more comfortable with readers' advisory in a relaxed environment. I plan to incorporate the appeal factors into our monthly book discussions right away. Taking the training together gives us the language to identify and discuss appeal factors and help us figure out which books we're reading might be similar. Even if my staff members don't know a particular title to list as a readalike, they can certainly say that they'd recommend Book X to kids who like fast-paced stories or to kids who like books with many characters and alternating viewpoints, etc. 

I also plan to practice our readers' advisory interviews. I think we'll start out by practicing on each other as we discuss and suggest books each month. We may eventually move into doing some role play and practicing readers' advisory conversations as they might actually happen with a kid. Although I know my staff are getting readers' advisory questions from actual patrons in their day-to-day jobs, role playing allows us to pause and offer strategies as we go along.

Now that we're all on the same page with terminology and readers' advisory basics, I'm really excited to see how that will translate in our monthly meetings!