A Selection of Core Resources for Readers’ Advisory Service

Neal Wyatt, Editor

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What would happen if you asked a group of readers’ advisory (RA) librarians—ranging from some of the top experts in the field to sharp readers who recently graduated from library school—to handpick a collection of professional tools, including books, articles, websites, blogs, and databases? You would get an eclectic collection of hard-working titles and sites that serve the daily needs of on-the-desk staff, foundational texts that set the standards of the service, and idiosyncratic picks that seem to always provide inspiration.

I found this out when I sent an e-mail to more than a dozen RA experts and asked them to work on this column. The only rules imposed to wrangle this process were that no one could pick their own work or work with which they are affiliated, and because of space limitations, once a title in a series was picked, that title would be the only book in the series included (but the selector could add a note to indicate the range of the entire series line). If I had endless space to devote to this topic, the column would consume the entire issue. RA librarians are a prolific and helpful lot and have produced a great deal of insightful writing. Library school professors teaching RA have written many seminal works we should all study. In short, there is far more excellent material available than can be covered in such limited space.

In an effort to pack in as much as possible, however, choices in each section were limited, as were annotations. While every book is annotated, only the top five picks for articles, blogs, and websites are annotated in favor of including more choices. Terry Jacobsen selected the articles, winnowing down a huge list to a hard-selected fifteen. Lisa Fraser did the same tough work in selecting the websites, as did Sarah Statz Cords with blogs. Neil Hollands and Jacqueline Sasaki also pitched in with the blogs, both selecting and annotating several of the key selections. Joyce Saricks wrestled with the RA databases, providing a neat overview of the five main products. The books were selected by John Charles, Mary K. Chelton, Gwen Glazer, Cindy Orr, Joyce Saricks, Kaite Mediatore Stover, Barry Trott, Kimberly Wells, and David Wright.—Editor


Baker, Sharon L. and Karen L. Wallace. The Responsive Public Library: How to Develop and Market a Winning Collection. 2nd ed. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2002 (ISBN: 9780-313-00897-9).

One of the most useful works on the public library, this book is almost unknown to readers’ advisors. It promotes the use of strategic planning techniques to anticipate demand and deliver client-centered service based on an accessible collection. The book is packed with practical information such as what elements affect user selections, research on arrangements of fiction collections, information on promotion and displays, and providing gracious RA service. It includes an impressive bibliography.

Hollands, Neil. Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction: Reading Lists for Every Taste. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2007 (ISBN: 978-1-59158-330-1).

Hollands compiles and annotates more than eight hundred titles in this excellent resource for RA and collection development librarians and the readers they serve. Listed by major appeal, titles are grouped by story, character, mood, setting, and language into quirky sublists. “Armageddon Out of Here: Fantasy’s Furious Final Battles” is one example of the many reading lists provided. Hollands not only leads readers to new books (or old forgotten favorites) but gives the stumped librarian a place to find everything from culturally diverse titles to action-packed stories that will appeal to gamers.

Series Note: Hollands’s book is part of the Read On series, which collects hundreds of titles into fun reading lists arranged by five areas of appeal (story, character, setting, mood, and language). Each book focuses on a genre or reading interest—crime fiction, women’s fiction, horror, memoir, etc.—and is designed to help readers find new favorites and RA librarians to get a sense of the scope of the genre.

Husband, Janet G. and Jonathan F. Husband. Sequels: An Annotated Guide to Novels in Series. 4th ed. Chicago: ALA, 2009 (ISBN: 978-0-8389-0967-6).

No one characterizes series as invitingly and precisely as the Husbands. Arranged by author, the entries describe each series in a few paragraphs and list titles in reading order, almost always with a brief plot summary. The entries speak to the appeal of each series and provide information perfect for sharing with readers. An online subscription version keeps series information up-to-date. Series likely to be found in a medium-size library are included; coverage is limited to novels only, across genres.

Kannenberg, Gene. 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide. New York: Collins Design, 2008 (ISBN: 978-0-06147451-4).

There are very few comprehensive RA tools for the graphic novel format, but Kannenberg’s colorful guide comes the closest. A short history of the American graphic novel opens this resource, divided into ten chapters ranging from “Adventure” to “Non-Fiction” to “War.” Each entry comes with a color duplication of the cover, an informative and occasionally critical annotation, a short review, and a read-alike suggestion. An essential collection development tool for the library beginning to build this type of collection and a brows-able resource for fans.

Lesher, Linda P. The Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader’s Guide. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000 (ISBN: 978-0-78640742-2).

The subjective organization of this model readers’ guide just feels right, with such sections as “More Than Meets The Eye” (literary titles with genre elements), “Literary Extensions” (inspired by literary precedents), “The Ties that Bind” (love, friendship, and family), “Unique Perspectives,” “The Innovators” (further divided into “Pushing the Boundaries” and “One Step Further”), and the ever popular “Humor.” Detailed summaries and critical excerpts are offered for more than one thousand titles, with indexes that include film adaptations and audiobook recordings. A heavy-duty resource for readers of all levels.

Pearl, Nancy. Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. Seattle, Wash.: Sasquatch, 2003 (ISBN: 978-1-57061-381-4).

No RA roundup could skip the foremost expert on matching patrons with books—and the only known librarian action figure. Nancy Pearl organizes hundreds of titles into quirky lists of fiction and nonfiction suggestions that tempt readers out of their comfort zones. Two sequels, More Book Lust: 1,000 New Recommendations for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason and Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers, continue the series, and 2007’s Book Crush reaches out to young readers.

Perrin, Noel. A Reader’s Delight. Hanover, Md.: Published for Dartmouth College by University Press of New England, 1988 (ISBN: 978-0-87451-432-2).

Perrin’s charming personal essays on forty of his favorite titles is a prime example of those congenial readers’ guides that are themselves a pleasure to read. Circulating copies of Perrin together with such guides as Pearl’s Book Lust (see above) or multiauthor smorgasbords like Mark Strand’s Books: The Essential Insider’s Guide, and Ondaatje’s Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost are a vital source of literary browsing for both readers and their advisors.

Ramsdell, Kristin. Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1999 (ISBN: 978-156308-335-8).

If you can only afford one romance readers’ advisory reference this is the book to buy (due out in 2011 in an updated edition). In addition to solid, practical advice on working with romance readers, the romance readers’ advisory interview, and collection development tips, Ramsdell provides chapters on different romance subgenres (such as romantic suspense) with lists of key authors and titles. It is a witty and well-written guide to the most popular of all fiction genres.

Series Note: Ramsdell’s book is part of Libraries Unlimited’s extremely useful Readers Advisory series, which began with the classic Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests. The series now has more than a dozen titles, each of which offer an overview of the genre and its subgenres, key authors and titles, and advice on working with readers in that genre. The series has also branched out to cover nonfiction and thus far includes three titles on such topics as women’s nonfiction, biography, and investigative writing.

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick, Lynne McKechnie, and Paulette M. Rothbauer. Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community. Westport Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2006 (ISBN: 978-1-59158-066-9).

Readers’ advisors like books that offer practical advice on providing service to readers. While these books are important to building skills, it is also essential to understand reading theory and how it relates to the practice of readers’ advisory. Ross et al. have written an authoritative and useful book for exploring how and why readers of all ages respond to books. Their research offers advisors a firm foundation from which to examine the reading experience.

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