Week 5 – Trends Reflection – Readers' Advisory – the trend towards fiction

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    • #1104
      Christopher Brander

      One of the topics this week was about Readers’ Advisory. As a quick aside, I wanted to mention that I was not really aware of the scope of this service. I knew you could ask a librarian for recommendations and I already use Goodreads but I didn’t realise Readers’ Advisory was such a big area of study and service. Upon reading further it struck me as an obvious and fun extension of a librarian’s role of collecting and curating. Being able to thoughtfully make recommendations to suit every reader makes sense and fits in with Ranganathan’s 2nd law of library science –  “Every reader his (or her) book”. Of course not every reader is going to have the same taste as you so knowing to look for appeal factors such as characterisation, setting, pace, and storyline can help you to make recommendations even if it’s not an area of your own personal interest.

      It was interesting to read about the history of Reader’s Advisory services. They started in the late 1800s and for the first 30-40 years librarians were still working things out and there was not much consensus – a time Crowley (2005) refers to as “Inventing Reader’s Advisory”. For the next 40 years or so there was a focus on non-fiction and education within reader’s advisory services. And then during the next 40 years after that (about 1980 onwards) there was a resurgence of Reader’s Advisory but now the trend is towards popular fiction. To me this raises 2 interesting questions – why did this trend away from education and towards popular fiction start? And is this a bad thing?

      It seems that one of the main reasons for the trend of readers’ advisory from an educational focus to a popular fiction focus was the rise of academic libraries. As Evans et al point out, public libraries are predominantly about recreational reading, whereas researchers and students can seek out academic libraries for educational reading. Currently a higher proportion of people in Western countries attend schools and universities than 80 or 100 years ago. For instance, Crowley (2005) states that before World War 1, fewer than 25% of teens above 14 were still in school and it was rare for adults to be college graduates. Thus the role of educating the public seems to have shifted to academic libraries.

      Some scholars, such as Dilveko and Magowan (2007) have criticised this trend in public libraries, calling it the “devolution into entertainment” or the “give em what they want approach”. According to this point of view, the role of libraries has been watered down and their ability to educate and inform users has been diminished. It reminds me of a similar phenomenon in news media where in recent times we have an increase in “sexy” news stories such as gossip and celebrity news as people are more likely to tune in and as a result there is a lack of hard hitting journalism.

      Arguably, however, giving users what they want should be exactly what libraries aim to do. If people are more interested in popular fiction then that is what libraries should be focusing on. And if libraries stop the focus on popular fiction in readers’ advisory programs could this lead to lower levels of use of libraries?

      Personally I don’t think the focus on popular fiction is a bad thing. Reading any books at all is better than not reading books. Also, if people are drawn to the libraries based on fiction, while they are there they might become interested in educational books. My readings this week have made me think about the educational role of libraries though and perhaps this role is being over shadowed. I don’t think there should be any reduction in the number of reader advisory’s about popular fiction but perhaps at the same time there could also be a drive towards getting readers interested in educational material. And I think this could be done in an organic way. For instance, if a reader enjoys  a fiction book set in World War 1 they might become interested in the time period and a librarian could suggest some non-fiction about World War 1 or whatever the setting of the book is. If users are really adverse to educational materials then it should not be forced on them but I think librarians could gently suggest non-fiction materials that might be of interest to users.

    • #1155
      Sarah Ross

      Enjoyed this reflection a lot.  I think that there needs to be consideration of why people use a library and what for – as you say you can’t force patrons to read something.  Having said that, some narrative non-fiction can be excellent and accessible reading (truism – truth can be stranger than fiction!)

    • #1158
      Christopher Brander

      Thanks Sarah. Yes I agree. I recently read a narrative non-fiction book for the first time in a long time and really enjoyed it. I found I related to the characters much more closely because the events were real and not just figments of someone’s imagination.

    • #1162
      Shannon Franzway

      I wasn’t aware until this weeks’ topic that reader’s advisory as a service was available to the extent that it is offered in many libraries.

      I agree, the shift toward popular fiction isn’t a bad thing and reading something is better than not reading at all.  However, it could also be something that is dictated a little by the major demographics attracted to a library.  Fiction was all I wanted to read through teen years and my twenties but I’ve found that as I have gotten older, I am much more interested in non-fiction titles and I’m sure this could be true for others as well.  In my earlier years though, I would have been against being “encouraged” toward non-fiction because it was all about escapism for me at the time.  So a gentle push toward non-fiction isn’t necessarily bad but perhaps it’s a shift that many patrons will make on their own anyway?

    • #1201
      Peldon P

      Interesting read Chris, enjoyed going through it. I think the video Kate posted on Reader’s Advisory helped me to understand the concept better. The twitter chat made it clearer and now your post.

      • This reply was modified 8 years, 10 months ago by Peldon P.
    • #1251
      Deborah Fuller

      A very interesting and informative reflection Chris. After doing the reading for last week and participating in the Twitter chat I feel drawn to the Readers’ Advisory role of the librarian. It was something I wasn’t actively aware of until this point. I agree that reading popular fiction is better than  not reading anything, particularly as it is my choice of reading. Like many people I read as a leisure activity and most of the time don’t want anything to heavy and I love the fact that public libraries offer plenty of choice in this area. Reading for leisure can increase vocabulary and spark interest in the reality on which the book was based thus encouraging the reader to examine the subject further if they desire. I believe as libraryans we should be encouraging reading at any level.

    • #1506
      Stacey Larner

      Haha another one who had no idea of the scope of Readers Advisory. As a fiction writer (and genre, no less–shock horror!) I always get a bit antsy by the argument that reading fiction is lesser than reading non-fiction. I grew up on fantasy and books like Watership Down and they definitely helped me develop empathy for the POV of others, and also raised a lot of interesting questions about the world that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. There is a place for both non-fiction (including narrative non-fic) and fiction and I love that RA helps readers to find books they might like to read but wouldn’t otherwise know about. I do think your idea about suggesting non-fic titles about topics people seem interested in in a fiction setting is a great idea.

    • #2332
      Chris Sonneveld

      Hi Chris

      Thanks for the great post. I think that libraries are definitely fulfilling a need by promoting popular fiction and trying to use it to entice people who wouldn’t normally read. It is a little concerning to think that libraries may end up promoting more popular fiction and forget to or financial restrictions not include content in their collection that is not considered popular. I would be interested in anyone else’s opinion on this as I’m not all that familiar with RAs or how they are usually managed.

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