Public libraries and librarians use many approaches to connect readers at all skill levels and ages with books and authors. They use story hours to teach preschoolers the six pre-reading skills needed to become successful readers; they take large print books to senior centers for elderly adults to enjoy; they host classes for adult new readers, or students of English as a second language; they promote specific books and collections in library displays; they tweet about books; and they host author events—to name just a few of the activities that libraries and librarians undertake to connect readers with books and authors.
Reading is a vital skill in our society—fundamentally basic to success—so learning to read is important, but librarians encourage pleasure reading as well. Pleasure reading is a joy and a way to help increase the needed literacy skills. People learn to read well by reading a lot—by practicing the skills they have learned. (This article on the NBC News Better website provides a summary of recent research on the benefits of reading.) Librarians encourage patrons to read more by helping them more easily find books that they can enjoy, thus making it more likely that they will read more. But recent research also shows that pleasure reading itself has proven social benefits, including increased empathy, better insight into the surrounding world, healthy escape from stress, and an improved sense of connectedness with the wider community.
For decades public librarians have honed their skills in what is known in the library world as “Readers’ Advisory Service.” This means that they have studied and put into practice the myriad ways that libraries can help readers to find good books suited to them personally. Many users of libraries, and certainly those who don’t use libraries, may have never heard of Readers’ Advisory Service. Even if they’ve experienced it firsthand, they may not have recognized that the display they browsed through, the book list they took home, or the book suggestion they received from the librarian was more than just a result of serendipity or luck.
Readers’ Advisory Service is an umbrella term for the many activities that librarians use to aid readers in finding books that they will enjoy reading. These activities may include everything from choosing the right books for the library’s collection, to making it easier for browsers to find good books, to taking books outside the library walls. It also, and maybe most importantly, means working directly with readers one-on-one to help narrow their choices so they can more easily find books that might suit their tastes and reading skills. Readers’ advisors do this by talking with readers about their tastes, and then using various resources and their knowledge of books to try to match readers to books that might fit them personally.
Many books, articles, presentations, classes, and training sessions over the decades have helped library staff members hone their skills in Readers’ Advisory Service, but the field is largely unknown to the outside world. This is not surprising, since there is no professional journal dedicated to the subject, many library graduate schools do not teach it, and the information about it is scattered widely with no one good place to find it. Public libraries in the United States have quietly offered the service for well over fifty years, but not much is written about it outside the scattered professional literature. This may very well be because much of the work done in the field to develop techniques was—and is—performed by practitioners rather than academics, and practitioners tend to write less. Over recent decades other more visible library topics such as funding issues, censorship, the impact of technology, and sensational stories on the issue of the opioid epidemic or the problem of the homeless in libraries, have caught the eye of the news media. But regardless of its visibility, Readers’ Advisory Service is basic to public libraries, even though its impact on the publishing industry has generally been ignored.
This directory, compiled by a dedicated committee of librarians, is intended to be a listing, with explanations, of the many activities that librarians across the country currently use to help readers find books they will enjoy reading. With this document as a basis, Panorama Project teams will go on to measure the impact of the various public library Readers’ Advisory activities on book sales in the United States. How many libraries perform the different activities? Do libraries affect the popularity of titles? Do author programs in libraries affect retail sales of their titles? Do book lists help raise awareness and sales of publisher midlist and backlist titles? Do libraries help readers to discover new favorite authors whose works they then go on to buy? We hope to find out.
We invite you to submit additional activities, examples and useful links. We also welcome your feedback on the directory. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.