Book Chat vs Book Club

Literally from the driver’s seat of my car this week, I tweeted merrily about readers’ advisory services.  As a newbie to public libraries, I am amazed at the different perspectives of librarians, borrowers and user groups that all revolve around reading.

Firstly the sophistication of the ‘Book Coasters’ reader’s advisory service is impressive with many new and not so new titles displayed giving readers a wide choice of genre and writing style to choose from together with advice on DIY Book Club.

At Fraser Coast Regional Council Libraries, both Book Chat and Book Clubs exist meeting the different needs of users.   Book Chat is an introduction to new publications, fiction and non fiction, in a range of genres and styles to suit the members.  Attendance at the monthly meetings fluctuates from as few as four readers to fifteen.  At the meeting on Wednesday all of the 12 female attendees were retirees. Two library staff guided the session, and four of the regular readers presented prepared critical appraisals of their recently read books.   The session was hilarious with plenty of rivalry for first speaking position and only mildly covert comments on the appraisals.  After a lengthy description of the plots and sub-plots of The Golden Key, one reader commented that: ‘Actually, I realised that I wasn’t really interested in what the secret was, where the golden key was, or whether they actually found any of it! It was all far too bizarre’.  Book Chat is about introducing readers to readers, readers to books, engagement with library staff and gathering information about what readers want.

Similarly Book Clubs build connections between readers and their library.  In Hervey Bay, Maryborough and the smaller communities of Howard, Burrum Heads, and Tiaro, readers meet either at the library or at a cafe or private home to share their reading experience.  Ten copies of the same title, often chosen from the recommendations from websites like Goodreads and Reading Group Choices and from popular demand, are supplied to the Book Club for up to three months.  It is up to the book club members to establish the ground rules for  the club.

In establishing a readers’ advisory service, both these programs provide great insight for librarians to gauge interest areas from their keenest readers while circulation statistics further support reviews of the reading and information trends within the community.

Becky Spratford’s comprehensive list of Readers’Advisory blogs, although published in 2012 would be a great starting point for any RAs as the diversity of blog sites gives librarians and RAs a guide to RA resources, library resources, major media outlets, general book blogs and podcasts.   Sifting through the myriad of advice online in relation to RA services is quite onerous and time consuming and confusing, if not overwhelming.

The most critical factors for an RA include communicating with the readers, taking on board suggestions, identifying trends, catering to interests/demographics and responding accordingly.  These were reflected in a recent advertisement for a Readers’ Advisory Librarian, where the Mosman Council specified a need for a qualified library professional ….with knowledge of literature and current reading trends … and experienced in social media for promotion and marketing.  It seems that RA services will become a critical part of information services as the volume and complexity of information continually evolves.

In different environments the user needs will be different and accordingly, a readers’ advisor’s knowledge of the physical collection as well as online sources of information will make a difference to the efficiency and completeness of the service provided, as will their soft people skills to understand what is needed and how best to provide it.