We can use Reader’s Advisory to both ensure that our communities feel seen and that they discover new voices and cultures by working on polices, merchandising, book lists, and handselling.
There’s nothing more thrilling for me than having conversations with readers about what they’re reading. It’s definitely easier to have these exchanges if we’ve both read the same book—hence why book clubs abound—but what happens when we run out of shared topics? How does one become more comfortable making connections for readers and learn to transform a shared title into a handful of “next reads?” My solution has been to start with popular titles and then uncover comparable, but less visible, titles.
As a new readers’ advisory librarian, I was too nervous and embarrassed to say, “No, I haven’t read that book” so I became consumed with reading popular titles. Now and again, I would throw in a few titles just for me, or challenge myself to read outside of my comfort zone. But mostly I believed that, I needed to talk about the titles everyone was grabbing from our Express Loan shelf to manage everyday conversations with readers.
Eventually I realized that maybe this wasn’t the best strategy because everyone was reading (fill in the blank with a New York Times bestseller here). My colleagues, book club members, customers—most avid readers—are already aware of, if not reading (fill in the blank with a Maclean’s bestseller here). So customers didn’t need me to be familiar with the most popular titles … they have already found them! What they did need was for me to be able to recommend comparable titles, those novels they’d never heard of, that were off their radar. I had to be able to make good “next read” suggestions.
So … how does one find a great title that may not be on the current bestseller list? Try one or all of the following:
- Choose a site or a library catalog that offers readalikes. For example, many readers loved The woman in the window by A. J. Finn. Readalike suggestions will lead you to other titles that may be of interest to these readers, such as: Her every fear by Peter Swanson and Sometimes I lie by Alice Feeney.
- Sites such as BookBrowse also provide readalike suggestions. If you enjoyed, An American marriage by Tayari Jones, this site suggests similar titles; Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon and The mothers by Brit Bennett.
- Check if your local library subscribes to NoveList and look at the readalikes highlighted by librarians, not just comparable subject headings. Pick a title you aren’t familiar with.
- Look at your new books area. If a book is super popular it won’t hit your new shelves for months after its publication, so grab something you’re unfamiliar with and learn to judge a book its cover!
- Instead of looking at the PrePub Alerts on Library Journal or other professional journals, look at what genre is getting the spotlight treatment that month, and try one of the highlighted books.
- Check out sites like Edelweiss, Netgalley, and Loan Stars.
- Ask your colleagues. Figure out who reads the frontline popular titles so you can get brief synopses and opinions. Find those who read genres that you don’t read for pleasure so that you can ask for recommendations
- Above all else, keep an open mind. You never know when you’ll come across a hidden gem!
All readers are different. Some have never heard of the most popular titles and if this happens, you’ll have a plethora of reviews in professional journals, newspapers and reader reviews to find out why those titles may appeal to them.
I’ve learned to focus on discovering titles that might work for avid readers who want recommendations that are less frontline. By challenging ourselves to read outside of our comfort zones and outside of consumed on-mass titles, we will be better RA suppliers and more aware of our collections.
Written by Laura Peacock
Photo credit: Karim Ghantous on Unsplash
Laura Peacock, Information Services Librarian, works at the Kitchener Public Library. She can be reached at email@example.com.