Not either/or. Both

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A tale of two friends, both self-described avid readers, who’ve read many of the same books, but typically fail to recommend a next-read that the other one would like.

Helen can recite intricate details of the plot, and can predict a plot twist a mile off. Meg rarely figures out a whodunit before the reveal, and usually only recalls how a book made her feel after she’s finished reading it.  If Helen starts a book, she finishes it, no matter what. If Meg starts a book, she might skip to the end, she might put it down & pick it up weeks later, or she might give up partway through. Helen is usually reading a maximum of two books at the same time, and will read typically work her way through all the books by the same author. Meg always has multiple books on the go, but doesn’t immediately seek out other stories by the same author.

Helen and Meg having both just finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Based on their experience with the book, this is what they borrowed next from the library:


  1. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  2. The Scar, China Miéville
  3. Recent copy of Smithsonian magazine


  1. The Almighty Johnsons, Season 2
  2. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  3. Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deb Biancotti
  4. Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
  5. 61 Hours, Lee Child
  6. Last rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Neither of them made their choices through interaction with Reader’s Advisory services of their local library. Prior to their next library visit, they had both already made their next-read choices based on reviews and recommendations from other sources, including Facebook and Twitter, visits to a local bookstore, reviews in favourite magazines, links from Good Reads, online book club. Helen arrived with a list of 10 books, and found 3 available on the shelf. Meg pre-ordered 3 books, picked the DVD from the recent returns shelf, picked 1 title from a new books display and chose 1 title from a themed book display.

How would you have begun the delicate dance of Reader’s Advisory for these two readers based on the same book? Would you have uncovered these materials for these two readers? Can you unlock the reasons behind the choices for each reader?

With more and more library users relying on their recommendations from elsewhere, how can libraries differentiate themselves for their community? As well as personalised recommendations from experienced librarians[1], reorganising the library space to align with bookstore retail models[2], develop themed book displays intentionally focused on extending people’s known experiences[3], there may be other ways to explore your community’s experience to develop Reader’s Advisory for other library users. In the same way that online retailers provide linkages between titles, “other customers bought”, libraries could also leverage their communities’ borrowing data to enrich discovery of new reading opportunities. The ways in which we organise, arrange, display and curate our library collections to connect with our community could be revolutionary. The intense power of tapping into our community’s reading experience could also unlock different and exciting connections for other library users. Libraries could choose to:

  • Organise collections emotionally.
  • Alternate Book Clubs (everyone reads and discusses the same book) with Book Smack events (everyone reads and reviews a different book).
  • Develop Reading Maps.
  • Make a recently returned ebook shelf.
  • Join in Read, Watch, Play.
  • Auto-generate next-read recommendations on check out slips.
  • Create themed Book Club

Leveraging community experience and community data balances the emotional and evidential connections with reading for our library users, because Reader’s Advisory is not an art nor is it a science. Reader’s Advisory is both.

Extend your Reader’s Advisory knowledge:

  • Crash Course in Readers’ Advisory, Cynthia Orr
  • Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th), Cynthia Orr and Diana Tixier Herald
  • The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, Joyce Saricks
  • BookLust podcast with Nancy Pearl
  • Book Riot website
  • EarlyWord website


[1] Christchurch City Libraries’ Staff Pickles, Auckland City Libraries’ My Librarian, Hamilton City Libraries’ Your next great read

[2] Public Library of Almere

[3] We Need Diverse Books website


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