How to: Reader’s Advisory

(This post has been adapted from a handout I made for a presentation on Reader’s Advisory that I gave with a fellow YA Librarian at my place of employ on October 22, 2014 at a YA Specialist’s meeting. While you are welcome to reference and use the ideas and resources listed here, please do not quote or otherwise use this text without credit/linking back to this blog. I have also made this post into a page for easy locating.)


What is Reader’s Advisory?

  • Reader’s Advisory is the “art” of Library Science where librarians talk with patrons to determine the best reading recommendations possible—like a reference interview where there is no specific question or right answer.

Before You Start: Things to Consider

  • Know Your Collection: What books are generally in stock at your branch? What is always checked out? What books can you recall without being near the teen space? Which ones require shelf browsing?
    Remember: You don’t need to know the entire collection for effective RA interactions.
  • Know Your Strengths: What genres do you read or have wide experience with? Which authors can you talk about confidently? Is there one section in particular from which you often recommend?
    Remember: You don’t have to read every book to recommend it but it is a good idea to have a few in your wheelhouse outside of your default reading choices.
  • Know What Else is Out There: Where can you go to find other books outside of your chosen reading areas? Who can you trust for read-alike suggestions?
    Remember: You don’t have to know everything. You just need to know how to find it. The Resources section on the back of this handout offers several ideas about where to look for information.
  • Know Your Space: Where do teens congregate in your library? What books have strong browsing appeal? Set up displays and fliers in high traffic/visibility areas where teens can find them. Keep displays fresh and interesting by changing them regularly.
    Remember: Not everyone wants to talk to a librarian when they come into the library. Displays or fliers are a great way to suggest titles without requiring one-on-one interaction.

Reader’s Advisory in Six Easy Questions

It is very rare for teen patrons to talk about books in terms of genre preferences or literary terms. Instead, it is sometimes easier to try and set up RA conversations in terms of binaries as posed in these easy questions.

  1. How do you feel about books set in a realistic setting or with plots that could happen in real life?
  2. How do you feel about fantasy books? Is a little fantasy okay?
  3. Do you like books with a romantic aspect?
  4. How do you feel about books with historical settings?
  5. How do you feel about mysteries?
  6. Have you read X books?—Couch this in terms of what’s popular now whether it’s If I Stay, Divergent or something else. (Asking in terms of The Hunger Games or Divergent is especially helpful to gauge the level of gore or violence that younger teens are comfortable with.)

Reader’s Advisory Resources

  • The Age of YA: A Timeline of Historical Fiction: This site is a great list (in infographic timeline form of historical fiction by decade and period.
  • Blogs: Provided you can find bloggers you trust who are consistent in posting, blogs can be a great resource to stay on top of new and current titles. School Library Journal’s blogs are a great combination of professional library evaluation and conversational analysis. (Of course, I’m a fan of my own blog but the key here is really finding bloggers you can understand and trust whether that means you know that you generally agree with their tastes or even if it means that you disagree.)
  • Cozy Mysteries List: If you are looking for cozy mysteries, this site has them parsed out by author, theme and even new releases.
  • Cybils: The Cybils Awards recognize children’s and YA authors/illustrators whose books combine literary merit and popular appeal. The award has two rounds which offers a shortlist and then an actual winner in a variety of categories for all ages (and even for book apps). This award is also judged and organized by bloggers so if you want to find some quality blogs, the participants here are always a good start!
  • Disability in Kid Lit: “Thoughtful portrayals of disability require more than memorizing a list of symptoms; we hope that sharing people’s day-to-day experiences, pet peeves, and thoughts on various disability-related topics will help readers and writers learn about the realities of disability, which are often quite different from what you read in books or see on TV.”
  • Diversity in YA: Created by authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, this site posts guest posts from authors about their books and writing process to “celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability”.
  • Edgar Awards: The Edgar Awards are given to the best mysteries in a variety of categories including Children’s, Young Adult, Best First Novel and more. In addition to a winner, the Edgars also include a shortlist of nominees. It’s a great way to stay on top of what’s new and worth notice in the mystery world.
  • Fantastic Fiction: This site is a great one-stop shop to check out all of the books an author has written (including new titles) as well as seeing which series they have written and their order.
  • Goodreads: This is another great way to find read-alikes and know if a book is worth recommending before you read it (especially if you add a lot of other librarians as your friends!).
  • KDL’s What’s Next Database: A one-stop shop to find series order for a variety of titles.
  • Lost Titles, Forgotten Rhymes: This site offers some helpful information on how to go about tracking down a novel (or other written works) when you do not know the title or author.
  • Nebula Awards: The Nebulas are an award given for science fiction and fantasy and are a great way to keep up with what is new and noteworthy for speculative fiction in a variety of categories including Young Adult and Best Short Story among others.
  • Review Resources: Review journals like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly or School Library Journal give detailed book summaries as well as a rundown of what does and doesn’t work in a title. If you don’t subscribe to all of those or want to look at every site, another trick is to search for a book on or and then check out the editorial reviews section where all of the reviews will be compiled in one handy spot for each book.
  • Sci-Fi Vs. Fantasy Flow Chart: This chart was made by Sci-fi Signal to navigate NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books and serves as a great primer for the different sub-genres found in both sci-fi and fantasy.
  • We Need Diverse Books: This site is the official home of the We Need Diverse Books movement that started as a hashtag. A great place to look for titles that are both diverse and often lesser-known.
  • What’s That Book?: An online community where members help each other find forgotten book titles.
  • Which Book: This search site offers sliders that allows you to find books based on content (happy or sad? Beautiful or disgusting?) as well as options to search based on setting (including imaginary) as well as on character attributes (race, age, sexuality, gender).
  • YALSA Book Lists: If you are looking for a book in a specific category or demographic, chances are the Young Adult Library Services Association has either an award list or annual book list that can help ranging from the Alex Award for adult books with teen appeal to Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults which offers thematic lists each year.

Is there a resource you use that is not listed here? Let me know in the comments!