When I began writing this blog post, ensconced at my picture book-strewn desk at NoveList HQ, I had no idea that I’d be finishing it from the solitude of self-quarantine. Thanks to the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting closure of many public libraries and schools, social media has suddenly become the primary method of readers’ advisory. While the suggestions below are intended for use in more typical times than these — understandably, book displays aren’t a top priority during a pandemic — I hope they’ll also prove helpful for providing readers’ advisory to your patrons from a healthy distance.

Use platforms wisely
Because every library or library system has its own policies and approaches when it comes to social media, I’m not going to tell you which platforms you should or shouldn’t use. It’s often by trial and error that you discover the platforms where you’re most likely to reach your patrons, so don’t despair if you’re not getting likes on Instagram — maybe your patrons are more of a Facebook or Twitter crowd. Or maybe a combination approach works best for your library, in which case you’ll want to maximize exposure by cross-posting your reading recommendations to all of your social media accounts.

Be responsive AND proactive
Just like your in-house readers’ advisory can be face-to-face or self-directed (via flyers, shelf-talkers, checkout receipt recommendations, etc.), so too can your social media RA be responsive (answering requests) or proactive (providing display photos, digital flyers, lists, etc.). On the responsive end of the spectrum, you may find it helpful to designate certain times when staff will be on hand to answer questions. For instance, many libraries participate in #AskALibrarian, a Twitter event that happens every Thursday at 12pm EST (4 pm UTC). It offers a much broader audience than your local library community, but it’s an easy and entertaining way to dive into responsive online RA.

Another way to stay responsive on social media is to track Media Mentions with NoveList, and then use social media channels to let your patrons know how to find the latest Oprah pick or that one book they heard about on NPR. When possible, you can even include a link to the show in which the book was mentioned, which may drum up additional interest from readers who missed it the first time around.

On the self-directed end of the spectrum, make your book displays go the extra mile by posting photos of them via social media. Plenty of people prefer highly visual social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, and you never know when an enticing display might tempt a new patron into your library. Similarly, sharing lists of recommended books (especially if they’re formatted as flyers, with eye-catching book jackets) might grab readers who prefer deep dives, or who like a lot of options when it comes to recommendations. If you’re short on time or stumped for display or list ideas, NoveList’s got your back: just browse our Recommended Reads panel on the left side of the NoveList home page, or search for DE Book display.  And if your graphic design skills aren’t as sharp as your readers’ advisory, LibraryAware has tons of ready-made flyer and widget templates that can be easily shared to social media.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it
In addition to using social media to show off your print books and physical media, why not take advantage of an extremely online audience and show off your library’s digital collections and databases? Get all of those ebooks and streaming videos and database articles out from behind a boring “Resources” link on your library website and flaunt them where users can see them! Try recommending a different collection or resource each week and use a trackable hashtag so that followers easily find more recommendations.

Utilize your resources
If all of this seems like a daunting amount of readers’ advisory, remember: it’s not cheating to use the resources available to you! You don’t have to read everything you recommend, and you don’t have to recommend on your own. You can tweet out recommendations from library staff, or use Instagram to share photos of books recommended by patrons, or create a Facebook group to help book clubs make selections. You can utilize the wealth of readers’ advisory tools in NoveList (seriously, have you seen our story elements?), not to mention LibraryAware (NextReads newsletters are a fantastic source of social media-ready book suggestions), and NoveList Select (try using Reader Insights to create monthly lists of the most frequently searched books in your library). Whatever you do, remember you’re not in it alone!

How does your library use social media for readers’ advisory? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Rebecca Honeycutt is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList. She is currently reading Kacen Callender’s King and the Dragonflies, as well as a lot of escapist fanfiction.