I believe there is inherent good in the act of reading; that reading makes life better for absolutely everyone; and that my mission in life is to get people to read, and to love doing so.
Apparently a large majority of the reading public agrees with me, because according to a 2017 Pew Research survey, between 64 and 73 percent of library users say they go to the library to check out a book. Despite libraries’ focus on promoting information literacy or providing makerspaces, the public is telling them that recreational reading is their priority.
I recently came to the conclusion that the best way I could promote this mission was to convince other professionals, and to be a resource for practical methods to promote recreational reading, specifically in libraries. This doesn’t sound like a radical concept…until you examine current services provided by public libraries.
The days are gone when the public librarian was the gatekeeper for knowledge. While it is specious to claim, as some politicians and bureaucrats have done over the past few decades, that Google, a search engine, could take the place of a librarian, the truth is that many or most questions people want answered are easily satisfied by a Google search, especially if those people are at all skilled in how to search. While we may deplore the lack of real content and compare what we as trained librarians can find for a patron to what they will bring to the surface through a paltry one- or two-word search, our expertise in this area is desired and required by an increasingly tiny portion of the population. If you ask reference librarians in public libraries what are their most frequent questions, you will discover that the bulk of them spend their time looking up telephone numbers; answering directional questions (where is the bathroom, the auditorium, or perhaps Under what Dewey number can I find plays?); and helping the digitally illiterate on a library computer (how do I get an email address, how do I double-space in Microsoft Word, can I print my plane tickets?).
The sad truth is, however, that with the exception of a dozen or so library systems in the entire United States, most libraries do not prioritize any kind of readers’ advisory service. At most, it is seen as an incidental, extra perk, and librarians are vaguely expected by their administrations to have some kind of rudimentary skill in providing it, should it even come up.
But readers’ advisory isn’t even taught as a required course in most library schools, so unless a librarian has taken the initiative to pursue an online webinar or has read a book or two about it, readers’ advisory is not a skill that can be offered by most librarians, except haphazardly and ineffectually by those who are avid readers and seek to connect with patrons by recommending books the librarians themselves have enjoyed.
And yet, there is that compelling statistic: Sixty-four to 73 percent of the library’s users are there to check out a book. Here’s another to add to it: Seventy-five percent of patrons who enter the library on a quest to find a good book answer “no” when asked if a librarian offered to help them find one (NoveList secret shopper survey).
What can you do about these statistics? What can your library do to cater to its large percentage of patrons who “just want to find a good book”? You can offer your library staff the training they need and deserve in order to provide this and other reader-oriented services to your patrons and satisfy this prevalent need to read. Please explore the training page of this website to discover what options are available to you.
“Reading is like the patent medicines advertised in nineteenth-century religious magazines: It will do anything you want it to do. It will calm you down or stimulate you. It will provide an escape from life’s problems, or it can allow you to confront these problems at one remove within the safety of the world of the book.”
—Catherine Sheldrick Ross