According to the 2011 statistics at the 2011 Catholic University of America Library Symposium, less than 100 libraries currently use and advertise the use of an online Readers’ Advisory Form. This is far too few.
What is exceptional about Readers’ Advisory Forms is that the librarian can serve all patrons without forcing them to wait in line and inevitably rush the cherished Readers’ Advisory Interview. The multiple choice format for much of the responses enables the reader to learn about what they like as they respond, offering vocabulary terms for different genres and covering almost every aspect of a book without offering just titles. It is indeed a full interview that requires a librarian’s knowledge of the collection to complete. It also accomplishes the librarian’s goal to educate the reader in terms that will enable them to do searches of their own later in their library education.
My favorite section of this form is the “Peeves and Pleasures” section, which safely avoids the major pitfalls in RA that include giving an unwanted book to a patron. This form can then act as a record of the patron’s assent if they choose to “Ignore” certain aspects of a recommended book that may be offensive. If the patron later files a complaint, this record can be maintained to support the librarian when otherwise there would be nothing but a “he said/she said” debacle. While this has been a secretary’s code to live by since days long since past to, “cover your tracks,” libraries have not had the advancements until recently to maintain a record that involves patron interactions. This online form can be either a major step forward for libraries, or a major step back.
While it is thorough (a full five printed pages of thorough), this form is also impersonal. It does not have a librarian’s voice or face or calming demeanor to explain something that the patron may not understand. It forces the reader to independently work towards their own goals without the guiding hand of direct questions. In a way that may be positive because a significant number of people enjoy taking online quizzes to find more out about themselves. However, this form does not carry the “If you don’t tell, I won’t tell,” tenor as online quizzes, which can be taken anonymously, enjoyed, and forgotten. This form is purely formal, excepting the cute wordplay of “Peeves and Pleasures.” It does not convey the confidence in which a hushed conversation with a librarian has, which could be improved.
Another problem is that it may take up to a week for the librarian to complete the request. A good number of these questions are related to the current emotional state of the reader and may not be the case a week from now. The amount of time it would take for a response is too wide of a margin in our fast-paced technological world. If reference librarians can respond instantly in a chat service, public librarians should be able to provide service just as quickly, with the proper training.
The primary issue for this form is its inaccessibility to younger patrons and patrons with special needs. Those behind in the literacy game may find it entirely too frustrating to try and learn the new terms and this frustration can be a roadblock to their use of the library. This will only be a problem if a library chooses to do this as the sole reader’s advisory access. As an outlet for excess requests, the form is perfect. However, the role of the librarian to do in-person Readers’ Advisory Interviews remains an integral role to assist those who require a more in-depth RA in order to find a book that will suit their age and needs.