It’s the telephone game…for librarians

Booth’s “Reader’s Advisory by Proxy” was a chin-strokingly interesting reading. I’ve never really thought about reader’s advisory by proxy, which is weird because now that I do think about it, I realize it is something that I did a a lot when I worked at Chapters. Especially during the insanely hectic Christmas season, when there were more people in the store buying for other people than were buying for themselves. I spent most of the holiday season lurking around the Teen section, hoping no one noticed my “Ask me all about Teen fiction!” button, and glowering at shoppers who messed up my shelves. Alas, the button did not go unnoticed. Questions were asked. And so many of the questions were (apparently) textbook reader’s advisory by proxy questions:

  • “I have a thirteen year old boy. Can you recommend something for thirteen year old boys?”
  • “My grand-daughter likes that vampire book, the one with the movies. I need something like that.”
  • “My kid doesn’t like to read but I want to buy her a book. Can you suggest any books that kids who don’t like to read might like to read?”

Yes, I’ll admit it: I was really bad at reader’s advisory by proxy. Being a reluctant Chapters employee and a generally surly person by nature, I usually mumbled “Book Thief” and slunk off into the throng of harried shoppers. (Okay, but to be fair, The Book Thief is awesome.)

After reading the Booth article, I am struck by the general strangeness of the whole concept of reader’s advisory by proxy. It is just straight up odd. Booth’s strategies and suggestions for trying to bridge the gap between YA reader and adult proxy are helpful, but I still can’t picture it working all that well. Coincidence and lucky guesses probably have a lot to do with whether the YA reader does happen to like the recommended book. As a future librarian, I think I would be uncomfortable recommending books to a reader who was not present, whatever their age–but maybe even more so for a young adult. Young adult readers are, in my (limited) experience, a confounding and unpredictable mixture of picky discrimination and curious open-mindedness. I need to deal with that without a middle-(wo)man.

I did like Booth’s “creative methods of conveying information” to teen patrons. Booklists, e-mail availability, and online RA services are some good additional or alternative methods of recommending books to teens who, for whatever reason, can’t make it into the library themselves. And teens like the interwebs. Teens+online RA services=happy YA readers.

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