Snobbery at the Reference Desk

Because the academic library I work at is on an open, urban campus of a college with open enrollment, we often get requests for books for pleasure reading. We have a relatively large fiction collection, but many of our books are older and certain popular genres and categories (street lit, YA) are fairly underrepresented.

A patron came to me today looking for something to read now that he’d finished up the Hunger Games books. Not having read them, I Googled for some RA guides, safe in the knowledge that the HG books were popular enough that SOMEONE would have written one. (They did; I used the easy-to-read Lawrence, KS Public Library’s guide at My patron and I looked through the selections, searched for them (fruitlessly) in our catalog, and eventually I ended up sending him to the public library to ask for further recommendations.

I Tweeted the issue (“Patron question I am woefully unequipped to answer: “I liked the Hunger Games. What should I read next?””) and a friend of mine replied that I should suggest “something better.” Now, I’m not particularly well-trained in reader advisory, but my philosophy with fiction recommendation is that what the reader wants is far more important than what I like. I’m not, for instance, a fan of the Harry Potter books. I haven’t read the Hunger Games, I hated what little I could stand to read of Twilight, and I wouldn’t touch 50 Shades of Grey with a ten-foot pole. Despite all that, if a patron came to me requesting more in the vein of one of those series, I would do my absolute best to find something similar. If I can also recommend something I like (I enthusiastically suggested The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson), that’s great – but only because it’s convenient for both of us that I can speak more directly to the appeal of that particular choice.

We as librarians ought to be judgmental about resources used for research, but should strive to be open to all possibilities when recommending books for pleasure – if we can cement the culture of reading for one more patron, it can only help the cause of libraries in the long run.

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