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Friday, January 10, 2014

Who Does Readers Advisory? -- An Invitation to Debate

Today I want to start an ongoing conversation about who should be providing RA service in the library.  Why now?  Well this is an issue that has been brewing for awhile.

In the beginning, when RA was in its infancy, most of us got behind the professionally trained staff  only side of the debate because we needed that argument in order to get funding to start formal RA. But that was back in the 1980s.  As we begin 2014, service to leisure readers is becoming something everyone who works at the library is expected to do (at least a little).

Obviously I fall more on the “everyone should and can do RA" side of this debate, but I do take a nuanced position. I understand that trained professionals, like myself, will provide a deeper and more accurate level of service to leisure readers, but there are plenty of ways all staff can learn how to begin conversations with readers. [That’s the idea that my entire RA for All training is based on]

I am not and will not ever advocate for all staff being expected to provide full blown RA service, but I do think that you can teach everyone on staff enough of the basics that they can help most patrons enough to encourage them to return for more help at a desk filled with more trained RA staff.

I have seen first hand how an RA based model of customer service-- listening to the patron, having conversations and not interviews (or interrogations as many patrons view their librarian interactions), and trying to provide what the patrons want first and foremost-- can transform an entire library including its staff and its patrons’ perceptions of the library and the level of service it can provide.

But regularly, I encounter colleagues who completely disagree with me.  They think that only professional librarians who have had RA training should be the only ones helping readers. These professionals only people are starting to feel out numbered, and can can feel the backlash building.

Up to now it has been more of a quiet, but balanced discussion across a dividing line.  I predict that this year or the next, there will be a lot of professional ink spilled on this issue.  So, I am going to try to throw my hat in the ring to jump on this debate before it begins in earnest.

Here's the deal.  I am looking for someone from the other side of the RA debate to work with.  I am not sure where I want to go with this.  I think it depends on the skills and attributes of my sparing partner, but I could see an on going point-counterpoint conversation here on the blog, articles, and even a presentation at a conference.

But to begin I need to find the right counterpoint person.

So if you or someone you know believes firmly that Readers' Advisory is solely in the purview of professional staffers and that all inquiries about leisure reading choices need to be handled only by professionals, contact me off the blog so we can have a chat.

I hope this is the beginning of something interesting and useful to us all.


Jen said...

I'm a professional librarian, and I'll be interested to see where this conversation goes. While I think that people who have had RA training sometimes have an advantage over those who have no RA training, it's not all about the training. I think there's room for everyone, professionally RA trained, and those who aren't (but who are readers, and who are great at giving RA suggestions to patrons). So, as I said, I'll be interested in what comes next in the debate. Thanks for putting this out there. :)

Rebecca Vnuk said...

What an excellent idea for debate. Keep me posted, I would love to see how we can work this into a Booklist article or sponsored conference workshop!!