Week 6 – Going Digital with Readers’ Advisory

By September 3, 2017IFN614, Reading and literacy

It is essential that libraries move into an all digital readers’ advisory service platform as it provides the best way of managing the extensive knowledge of readers. There are an abundant number of online resources and libraries themselves are building extensive recommendation services from their own data analysis. A good example is the QUT library search which provides extensive recommended categories. Users are also becoming more digitally literate in finding titles they are after. As Michael Lascarides in Next-Gen Library Redesign states “For the library of the future to have as passionate an audience in decades to come, we need to ensure that we’re offering interactive and discovery experiences that are as good as the offering they are becoming used to outside the library.”

I believe readers’ advisory is a service that by its nature is fundamentally better provided digitally. The knowledge that is stored by staff and users should be moved into knowledge management (KM) systems as otherwise individuals silo this information. One of the biggest negatives with information silos is that when staff leave for other positions this information leaves with them. It also means that staff that may be more engaging in a certain genre may not be available when needed. As Nowacki & Bachnik state in Innovations within knowledge management “Employees serve as transmitters of knowledge.” Transmission of knowledge needs to be captured digitally so that results don’t end up only being produced by computer algorithms.

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The role of readers’ advisory should move to one of managing KM solutions and teaching readers how to search using the internal systems available. If an extensive KM solution can be built around crowdsourcing the views of staff then this can be utilised with search results by accessing staff under separate “personalised” categories.

A great article discussing readers’ advisory was published by the Ontario Public Library Association.

The main topics of effective advisory were listed as:
1. Approach
2. Conversation or Interview
3. Actions to offer suggestions
4. Closing and follow up

These topics can be digitised by:
1. Providing easy to access computers that provide highly visible suggestions after search results.
2. Digital forms during search results that can be easily answered and suggestions provide. This would differ from standard search and suggest to one of suggested based on interview.
3. Searching already allows suggestions to be provided from a database of analytics.
4. If the user has an email attached to an account it should be used to engage with suggestions like any other corporate mailing list is used.

Finally, with thousands of books being published each year how does a reader access an exhaustive list of suggestions? This can only be performed digitally. Crowdsourcing the knowledge of staff into KM solutions is essential in maintaining relevant and engaging suggestions.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Deborah Ponting says:

    What about readers under 10. Do they know enough about genre, authors or what is available to expand their reading choices by interacting with a reader’s advisory online? Plenty of people still use checkouts with people serving them rather than the self-service checkout because they want the human interaction and there is much research that suggests the same about library patrons of all ages.

    • Tom says:

      A checkout assistant doesn’t hold too much additional knowledge that is required for a buyer to use a self checkout. A readers’ advisor may hold many years of readings and knowledge of similar titles. The issue is that when the checkout assistant moves to a new job it doesn’t cause the company to lose knowledge. Yet a person acting as a readers’ advisor is siloing that knowledge and therefore if they leave for a new position that knowledge goes with them.
      There is always going to be a category that requires personal attention. I have 3 young children and this category is more unique as teachers and primary school libraries work actively to engage students with books. However, there is no reason why even at this stage children cannot be taught to use digital assistants to find books they are interested in.

      • Callum says:

        I do agree with you, in that readers’ advisory services are, will, and probably should, go digital (and I personally can’t remember the last time I didn’t use an online resource for finding a new book). However, I think certain libraries will be able to do that much more easily than others. City libraries would probably be able to make the transition easily enough, but there’s also a lot of regional/semi-regional libraries whose clientele consists of the really young and the really old, so the categories that require personal attention would pretty much be their entire user base, and that’s before even discussing the digital divide that’s apparent in parts of Australia that would make accessing digital services in some areas prohibitively difficult.

        I’ve worked in regional communities before, where the libraries client base skewed towards the tail end, and for a lot of people in them the rapport building/social aspect to it is a more important factor than what’s actually being recommended. Even if they hated your suggestion they’d still come in and joke about it and ask for something else. Sometimes they’d even seem happier when they hated it because that was more exciting to come back and talk about. Which I think is similar to what Deborah might have meant in her comment. In that regard the siloing of knowledge isn’t so much about the books, but rather about the knowledge and understanding of the community, which would be harder to shift over, and you’d probably lose something by going digital.

        I guess you could try and bring in a book club activity or something to replace it, but from what I gathered doing that sort of job, most of the users weren’t interested in a formal sort of thing, saying g’day and having a chat for a couple of minutes every now and then was about the extent of it.

        I guess the point I was trying to get to was that some library communities are very different, (although I dare say you would get similar types just about everywhere), and while I would personally prefer to use a digital resource, before putting something like that in to replace face-to-face services completely, you do have to consider what sort of role the library is playing in its community, as well as what sort of expectations do the community members have for their library?

        • Tom says:

          The presumption you have made is that individuals will spend a considerable amount of their career in one library. Community knowledge is tacit knowledge that will be lost with staff turnover so indeed it cannot be capture. The focus was on siloing of readers advisory knowledge. This knowledge can be captured so new staff in community libraries can focus on building up tacit knowledge that you mention and can therefore rely on digital sources for readers advisory.

  • Hi Tom. Great to see you take a position on this topic, which you clearly feel strongly about, and create a strong argument for.

    I think you’re right, eventually readers’ advisory will be a digital service, but I can’t see this happening for a long time. There is too much that still needs to happen around machine-learning, flexible interface design and resource standardisation before an application of knowledge management can really be effective in a library setting. Accessing even one of these core technology components is very expensive and as we all know, library budgets tend to shrink, not grow. Thus adding to the challenges of complex technological integration.

    Personally, I hope that the human-based readers’ advisory service is never retired. I think there is space for both, and whilst I agree with your arguments around knowledge-retention and sharing, I believe there is more to a good readers’ advisory service than that. I think Deb and Callum both make important points about the value that some library users place on human interaction in a library setting. Whether it’s a preference, community connection, a lack of technology literacy, or even (in Australian libraries) an English as a second language challenge some users want – and need – to talk to a human.

    Thanks again for sharing your views on this, I think the debate generated by this post is a great indicator of a topic we are all passionate about!

    • Tom says:

      Indeed there will always be a place for human interaction but with changing user needs there will come a time for streamlining processes. It is hard to see how readers advisory through digital means is not a more optimal solution that allows librarians to then focus on other services.

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