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Reader's Advisory Training: Talking With Patrons

Reader's advisory can seem intimidating ("OMG, I have to find the PERFECT book for this patron so they don't lose faith in the library!") but it's really about making conversation with a patron about books, suggesting a few titles based on the information they gave you, and inviting them to come back and continue the conversation.

In addition, RA is not just about in-person interactions. It also includes self-directed RA activities, such as displays, book lists, blog posts, and shelf talkers, as well as talking about books in everyday conversation with patrons and coworkers.

"I'm just looking for a good book"

What do you do when a patron comes to the desk looking for a book recommendation, but doesn't really have anything in mind? You can turn to sure bets. Sure bets are books that have a wide appeal to diverse groups of readers, and they're a librarian's best friend. Here are a list of places where you can find sure bets:


Patron Tips

Questions You Can Ask to Start the Conversation

  • Tell me about a book you really enjoyed.
  • Tell me about a book you really hated.
  • What type of book are you in the mood for?
  • Do you want something similar to books you've read in the past, or something different?

If the patron is having a hard time describing a book they really liked:

  • What kind of movies or TV shows do you like to watch? What do you like about them?

Key Points for RA Conversations

  • Never apologize for your reading tastes, and never judge someone else by theirs.
  • If you're going to talk about a book that you personally enjoyed, make sure that it's something that the reader might genuinely be interested in.
  • "Suggest" books, rather than recommending. If you "recommend" a book, it may make the patron feel pressured to enjoy the book(s) that you're giving them because it was RECOMMENDED by the librarian, who is undoubtedly an authority figure on good books. Suggesting books keeps the conversation low-key.
  • Use resources! That's what they're there for! Use NoveList, Fantastic Fiction, the book lists on the WPL website, whatever makes sense.
  • Check to make sure at least one or two of your suggestions are already on the shelf! You can suggest other books that may be checked out or owned by a partner library, but make sure the patron can leave with something at that time.
  • Try to give the patrons at least two books to take home - that way, if they don't like one of the books, they'll have a backup.
  • Invite patrons to come back and let us know if they liked or disliked our suggestions.

Additional Tips

  • RA conversations aren't about putting the "right" book in a patron's hands. It's about starting a conversation, offering options, and inviting the person to come back and give us feedback.
  • Enthusiasm is key to a meaningful conversation. Even if you aren't familiar with a genre or an author, you can still have a productive conversation by being excited about helping someone find a book.
  • If you're not familiar with a genre or an author, ask the patron to tell you more. Let them be the teacher in this conversation.
  • Explain your search process to the patron - if you're using Fantastic Fiction or NoveList to help you search,
  • Walk with patrons to the shelves - that can give you more opportunities to continue the conversation.
  • If patrons are hesitant about taking more than one book, remind them that we don't check to make sure they finished a book when they return it.
  • If possible, ask the patron to leave their contact information so that you can follow up with them in a couple days with additional reading suggestions.