Weekly Reading – Week 2
A Peek into the History of Reader’s Advisory Services
In her chapter 2, Maatta (2010) clearly points out that one of the most significant developments in the history of reader’s advisory services is that today’s reader’s advisor suggests materials based upon patron’s interests. Early reader’s advisory services were more structured; librarians preferred if a patron chose nonfiction book over fiction. They felt that people would improve their lives by educating themselves by reading nonfiction; leisure reading to them was not as important. In comparison with early librarians, today’s advisors equally present all materials, whether it is fiction or nonfiction.
In a way, I completely understand why librarians in the 19th and beginning of 20th century emphasized “higher class literature” over popular fiction novels. In those times, there were not many people that had higher education; many lived in poverty, and the country was dealing with one of the largest surges of immigrants. Librarians believed that public libraries were part of the educational system and their main goal was to select materials that would challenge patrons intellectually rather than materials that would only provide leisure or pleasure. On the contrary, even at that time patrons have shown great interest in popular fiction and the circulation statistics show that fiction books were still more popular than nonfiction.
Maatta (2010) also mentions that in the beginning of the 20th century, the reader’s advisory was separate from the reference department and the advisor was a clerk or a library assistant who “heartily enjoys works of the imagination, but whose taste is educated” (18). Librarians clearly saw the importance of reader’s advisory in public libraries therefore; first reader’s lists, guides on various subjects and other reader’s advisory materials had been created. By 1920-1940s readers’ advisors were able to prepare individual reading plans which consisted of subjects such as science, history and so on. Even though 1930s era was considered the “golden age “of reader’s advisory, RA services experienced its decline during and after WW2.
Political situation in a country and the community’s well being have had always a large affect on many institutions including public libraries and its services. For instance, during and after WW2 the fiction circulation significantly decreased along with the need for the reader’s advisory in public libraries. Clearly, people were affected by the war and for many reasons they did not want to use these services. Therefore, public libraries build and maintain their collection and services that focus on current events in their communities and in their country. For instance, during economic crisis, libraries should pay close attention into having relevant nonfiction materials on jobs, employments; their services should also be concentrated on self-improvement courses to workshops to find employments and so on. However, libraries should not forget on having a large selection of genre fiction so readers can find a temporary escape from their everyday problems.
A major development in the history of the reader’s advisory was publishing of Genreflecting in 1982, which was a new concept for the reader’s advisors to make reading recommendations and find read-alikes for patrons (Maatta, 2010). Today’s advisors understand that analyzing the characteristics of genres in order to identify the appeal of the book is crucial to an effective reader’s advisory. Likewise, today’s advisors have many tools, especially electronic resources to find the material that the patron is looking for. In addition, today’s readers can contact reader’s advisors in various ways, which was unthinkable in the past.
Maatta. S. L. (2010). A few good books. Using contemporary readers ‘advisory strategies to connect readers with books. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.