Reader’s Advisory when you can’t afford your own Booklist subscription

When I worked in a public library as a shelver, and later, as a circulation clerk, it was pretty easy to have a general idea of what kind of books we had in a variety of genres to get people started. I could see what books were really popular, and what books people tend to check out within a genre (or across similar genres). I also especially benefited from talking with people about books they’ve read, because that helped me help others by saying, “Well, a lot of people who read that book also loved this book…”

But when I moved to Chicago in 2010 and ended up in academic libraries, I lost that pulse on the book world, and have struggled to keep up since. I even investigated the cost of subscribing to Booklist or other publications that provide brief blurbs about new books.

Fortunately, Chicago Public Library has Booklist, Novelist, and (Non)Fiction Connection subscriptions (scroll down), so I can just mooch off of their subscriptions as a Chicago resident.

I played around with them to get a feel for how they work. I think I like them. They are definitely handy for helping others find books by read-alike authors, on similar topics, etc.

The downside is that I wish it was easier to create a printable list of book titles to give to patrons. See, that’s one nice thing about of the free Goodreads account, because as you browse books, you can easily add specific ones to a list, AND you can print that list easily. This works for people who are willing to create an account, but for RA at the reference desk, it’s kind of lacking.

Another difference between these subscription resources and Goodreads is that with Goodreads, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole, following a thread of similar books. It makes it so much more suitable for patrons to browse books digitally. I would love to browse books this way to keep up with my RA skills, because it makes it more like when I worked in public libraries–but Goodreads is more personalized. I’m not quite sure how to begin making a new personalized list just for RA research.

The subscription databases aren’t as conducive to browsing, since it’s geared for the much different purpose of librarian-ing. The best bet for browsing is the Booklist reviews, but I’m still missing the part where I can observe check-out patterns from patrons, and talk with people about what similar books they liked.  I guess that’s where Goodreads comes in handy, but a few librarian friends is not the same as just random library users.

The other resources’ drawbacks for keeping up with current book trends is that they are are search-reliant. You kind of need to know a certain preference in order to search for similar preferences.

I’m always on the lookout for more RA tools–especially cheap (preferably free) ones for us recent MLIS graduates who may not be working in public libraries. So if you have any other tips, tricks, or suggestions, please comment! I would really appreciate it.

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