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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Can't These People Go To a Library?!?!

I am so upset I don't know if I can write this post.  Yesterday I came across this article on the NYT website, talking about GoodReads acquiring the automatic reading recommendation website, Discovereads.

Discovereads bills itself as having the best book recommendation system online.  I'm okay with that.  They do it online, with an algorithm; no people involved.  But then I get to the user comments further down the page, and I have to admit, I may not be able to control my anger:

This site helps me discover new books I would never have known about, based on my previously read and liked books! It takes all the headache out of looking for a new book to read once I've finished my present story. My only problem is choosing between all the interesting reads suggested!
- Emily Y.
I like Discovereads! It gives me great book recommendations that really fit me.
- Audrey W.
I've had a lot of difficulty finding books in the past, but after spending a little while on your site, I now have thirteen potential reads.
- Jeffrey L.

HAVE THESE PEOPLE NOT HEARD OF THE LIBRARY!!!!!  Sorry for the caps, but I am not happy here.  From where I sit, these comments are ridiculous.  They are thanking a computer for helping them do something that an actual trained person can help them do either in-person, over the phone, or over the computer through the local library.  Oh, and that actual person can get you the actual  books in print, audio, or ebook format...for free!!!

Audrey, we have book suggestions that fit you at the library.  Jeffrey, you would not have had trouble in the past if you had called us, at your local library, first, and Emily, we are all about preventing headaches at the RA desk.  You just need to remember that trained people exist to help you.  If the three of you could have seen the diverse group of people I helped to find their next good read just yesterday alone, you would be singing the librarian's praises, not some algorithm's.

That is not to say that computer generated suggestion sites like Discovereads or Gnooks do not have a place in the RA world.  In fact, they are a great option when you are stuck for ideas, but nothing beats talking to a trained readers' advisor about your reading tastes.  Quite often readers cannot articulate why they like a certain book.  They need to be asked specific questions about why they liked the pacing, storyline, characters, mood, style, and language.  From their answers, the RA librarian can begin to craft suggestions.

Also, these resources do not take the most important RA interview question into consideration..." Are you in the mood for that or something different."  Meaning, just because I gave a book 5 stars on a website a week ago, that does not mean that I want another book exactly like it now.  Maybe I want something completely different.  How is the computer going to figure that out?  No one reads the exact same type of book over and over.

The point is, a trained librarian can do a much better job than a computer.  And, you could contact us online too.  Don't agree?  Ask me to help you.  See if I can do better than the computer.


Sara said...

I'm curious, do all library's generally have an RA?

I've always loved using shelfari because I like looking at the shelves of people who read similar things to me. I usually make a big list of stuff I think I might like that way, and then take it with me into the library. I honestly had no idea that it was possible to ask for recommendations in the library. Perhaps other people don't know about it either?

Becky said...

Yes Sara. Even if they do not advertise the service, all libraries have provided reading suggestions for years. Just start talking to the adult librarian and see...

Cari said...

I know how you feel. I was reading Rachael Ray's magazine last night. There was a whole article on book groups, which is great, but then they had "how to find a book for your group" and the library wasn't mentioned at all. I'm going to write a letter to the editor. I did it once when a similar thing happened with Redbook magazine, and the letter was printed. Just have to keep advocating!

Becky said...

Cari, I totally agree. The book club stuff drives me insane. The books are free at the library! At the BPL, we even have book club kits that a group can check out with about 10 books, discussion questions, and readalike suggestions. They are books we have already had success using.

Keep advocating Cari. Thanks.

Trina said...

I completely concur that the disconnect between libraries and book clubs is baffling and inordinately frustrating, but I don't think that libraries should feel that services like DiscoveReads necessarily threatens quality RA service. Tons of people ask me for movie suggestions when I work the reference desk even though they are fully aware that NetFlix offers "If you liked..." recommendations. I think most people who are big readers understand that suggestion services relying on a computer rather than a person are a great starting point but most would readily accept a suggestion from a person - whether it's a friend or a librarian - and give it far more credence. That's just my two cents, however.

Laurie C said...

Not all staff in all libraries are comfortable making suggestions, so I'm really not surprised that people don't think of asking at a library for suggestions. If you ask one person one time and get a negative response, you might not ask again, even to a different person at a different library.
Also, it takes time to build a relationship with a librarian, and many people might prefer the speed and anonymity of a computer spitting out algorithim-based recommendations. They can take 'em or leave 'em without worrying about hurting the computer's feelings.

Kathleen said...

While I understand your frustration, I think you are directing it at the wrong target. If these people are unaware that the same service is offered at their library, then the library is the one at fault for not getting the message out. I came to be a librarian after working many years in retail sales, and use many of the same strategies to keep my patrons happy. Getting out from behind the desk, walking around and talking to people lets them know that you are available and they won't be "interrupting" you. When I visit other libraries, I'm often not even greeted, much less asked if I need any help.

Becky said...

Kathleen, you are unfortunately correct. One of the reasons I write this blog is to promote what good RA service is like. I have trained 6.5 years worth of library school students to provide this better, more friendly service, and travel all over the Midwest pushing the idea of being as helpful as possible to patrons. But not every librarian gets the message.

Again, that is the main reason I write this blog, to give librarians NO EXCUSES. I am providing the tips, resources, and information to make you a better, more helpful librarian. Use them please.

I also wrote this post in a completely one-sided manner on purpose in order to generate discussion. I am glad it worked. Keep the comments coming...

Anonymous said...

I am a librarian who thinks that it is okay to find books any way you can! If the computer model works for some, then that only speaks to the uniqueness of individuality and we can't get too upset that something is meeting these people where they are.