Tumblarians were passing around this quote the other day:
“There are no short cuts to [Readers’ Advisory] work. You have to read, and you have to love books. Reviews and read-alike gimmicks only take you so far. I know it’s old fashioned, but readers’ advisors must be readers.” -Will Manley
The quote comes from a Booklist column, at the end of which Will Manley meets you down at the crossroads with the one book that all sixth graders will love, The Westing Game. In exchange, you have to promise to read ALL THE BOOKS, so you can tell hipster tech librarians where to shove it. It’s a pretty good read.
I Tumblr’d back that I disagree with that quote (I’m still learning Tumblr, so that’s probably not what I did at all).
My main problem, and this is obviously my own weird head canon, is that this quote conjures up this cozy world where the librarian and patrons are all holding hands and kissing their copies of Pride and Prejudice. Where everybody likes the same books, and all the librarian has to do is read and dispense.
Readers’ Advisory is not about saying, “I read this book and I know you’ll love it!”
Readers’ Advisory is, “What books do you like? What did you like about them? What do you want this new book to do for you? Sometimes people who want that, like this book. Take a look, what do you think?”
To do that, it’s more important to be able to ask and find, than it is to have personal experience. Because frankly, it’s not about your taste.
Reviews and read-alikes aren’t gimmicks. You need tools like reviews and read-alike sites to help open your mind to the way that other people read and think about books. That’s the main skill of Readers’ Advisory, empathy. You have to teach yourself Readers’ Empathy.
Reading widely does help librarians to be better readers’ advisors. But reading about reading, and reading about books helps even more. Also, talking to people about books is wonderfully enlightening. There’s nothing wrong with showing a patron LibraryThing, or NoveList, or any other site they’ve never heard of that can help them be their own Reader’s Advisor. That’s part of the job too – teaching skills so that patrons can do things for themselves.
I read and I love books. But I read and love books because that’s my joy, not because it’s my job. My job is people.
…The Westing Game is pretty awesome though. I’ll try it with my twelve year olds. They’re pretty tough, so I don’t know. If it works I’ll go push a hipster into a mud puddle.