Between our blog post about recent readers’ advisory (RA) innovations which are here to stay and the State of Readers’ Advisory webinar on August 18, the RA world is just beginning to unpack, process, and contextualize the information contained in the recent State of Readers’ Advisory 2021 survey, conducted by Library Journal and sponsored by RUSA CODES, ARRT, LibraryReads, and NoveList.

I look forward to hearing about insights gained from nuanced looks at the data (no doubt from more technically skilled data geeks than myself!). However, one prominent theme from the survey is the crucial importance of a confident, well-trained staff. After an 18-month global crisis that has demonstrated more clearly than ever the unique value which librarians and library workers play in keeping our communities together, equipping team members with the skills they need to fulfill the library’s mission no matter what arises is a clear priority.

Importance of Readers’ Advisory

In survey responses, the importance of readers’ advisory was uncontested. Up 15 points from 2013, 65% of respondents indicated that RA is “very important,” with an additional 32% of respondents indicating it is at least “important.” That’s as close to universal as we are likely to get (given the disclaimer that 96% of our respondents personally perform readers’ advisory).

In addition to this, 64% of respondents indicated that the need for RA has increased either slightly (39%) or significantly (25%) during the pandemic. Some people might look at that and say, “well, 39% said it only increased slightly,” but I’d encourage you to think this through in a slightly different way. In a time of library closures, when access to RA could have become nonexistent, library workers kept the service going and offered it in new ways, to the extent that MORE people were making use of this key service even when libraries were closed or offering limited services.

Staff Roles and Challenges

So, for a core library service which is deemed crucial to fulfilling library missions, how do staff allocation and confidence line up? When asked who provided readers’ advisory service at their library, 82% of respondents indicated that all staff are expected to provide some level of RA, while only 19% have dedicated RA staff. Here at NoveList, we love the idea that all library staff have a role to play in readers’ advisory. Check out our updated RAx Guide for thoughts on how ALL of your staff members can use their unique skills to do exactly that.

When asked what the biggest challenges that people ran into with providing RA service, top responses included working with unfamiliar genres and authors (44%), finding the time to provide thoughtful responses (18%), and keeping up with new titles (17.6%). When asked what might improve staff confidence in general, the top three responses indicated that more reading, training, and experience would help everyone get on a level playing field with this core library service.

The Case for Training

Consider new services added during the pandemic – curbside pickup, book bundles, remote browsing, facilitating remote discovery of online resources (particularly e-books and audiobooks). All of these may have called on staff members to exercise familiar skills in different ways, or for MORE staff members to exercise unfamiliar skills.

Training can come in a variety of ways. You can encourage a culture of learning by having RA-focused group discussions, whether a formal genre study or regular staff book sharing at meetings. The simple gift of time can’t be overstated; allow staff to create space on their calendars for in-person or online conferences and other enrichment activities. Provide different team members the opportunity to share their areas of expertise so that all your staff has a better understanding of the individual gifts people offer to their customers and colleagues.

As you can see, there are many options and approaches to training. A training mindset is a good one to develop when it comes to cultivating the skills and encouraging the growth of your team members. If you are not sure where to begin, check out our Learn with NoveList page to see the courses being offered by our own team of library experts. From the foundations of readers’ advisory and marketing to more advanced courses exploring genres and library advocacy, we’ve got an expert who can help you out. We are also developing new courses, so if there’s something you don’t see here that you would find helpful, please go ahead and send us a note!

As we know from our experience during this pandemic, the innovation and dedication of library staff were crucial in maintaining an essential service for their communities. Staff training is one of the best ways to recognize that effort and show your staff that they are important to the success of your library’s mission. Training can also help staff utilize the time they DO have for RA more effectively, and by training more staff, you spread the workload and create an engaged and confident team.

Readers’ Advisory Foundations

Are some of your staff new to readers’ advisory? Want help getting staff at all levels ready to excel at connecting readers with books? Hire a Learn with NoveList expert.

Victoria Caplinger Fredrick is the Director of Book Discovery at NoveList. She is currently reading The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones.