Readers Advisory – Amazon vs the Library
Following on from our very interesting twitter chat on readers advisory, I thought it would be interesting to do a service review with a difference – Amazon vs the Library!
The Amazon advisory service was easy to access at any time, whereas a search for any online or out of hours advice from my local library proved fruitless. However, I then spent an hour browsing through the recommendations on my Amazon site not really finding anything that I felt like reading. It seemed to be quite heavy on light romances, but having just finished The Water Diviner, I was really feeling like something a bit more historical. Amazon’s recommendations are generated based on what other customers who read the same books as me are reading, but don’t take in to account how satisfied people have been with those books, or how I am feeling at any particular time, so they are very generalized.
The next day I visited my local library. I was a bit nervous about asking for assistance as I didn’t want to be a nuisance, but I soon found a staff member and she was very happy to help me. I explained what I was after, and she immediately pulled out a copy of “If you liked this author, you’ll also like…”, scanned through for some historical fiction authors, asked me a couple of questions, scanned some more, then lead me back to the stacks. After about 5 minutes I came out with an arm load of books. While looking through the stacks I spotted some more things that caught my interest, and the librarian mentioned a non-fiction book that she enjoyed that I thought sounded interesting too, so my ideas were extended. I went home with two different books to try from the selection and lots of ideas for new authors to keep an eye out for.
Before this exercise, I was thinking that all libraries should adopt a system like Amazon, but after comparing the two, I think there are some distinct advantages to the personal system. For a start, it was really nice to make contact with a real person, we had a chat while she was helping me and the interaction left me with a good feeling afterwards. Research by Sandstrom and Dunn shows that these type of interactions can lead to increased well-being and sense of belonging. The Ontario Public Library Association stress the need for library staff to be proactive in starting these conversations as they also see the added benefit of enhancing the library’s profile in the community.
Another thing I liked about the personal service was that the recommendations were more specific to how I was feeling at that moment, so even though it took time to go in to the library, the selection of a book was actually a lot more efficient than it had been using Amazon. I also felt that my ideas about what to read were expanded by the experience.
While I do still think that patrons should have the option of having Amazon like recommendations generated for them based on their past borrowings, there are definite benefits in having a personal readers advisory service as well. The proliferation of websites offering book reviews and similar author recommendations may lead to a decrease in demand for these services, but I think it is well worth us remembering just how valuable those personal interactions can be for many of our patrons, and going out of our way to develop innovative ways to ensure they continue.