Readers' Advisory Service Competencies


A. Background in Fiction and Non-Fiction


Readers' advisors need to have a thorough knowledge of popular authors and titles. The ongoing development of this knowledge is an essential element in providing effective readers' advisory service. Individuals engaged in readers' advisory work need to understand the cultural context I which books are created and experienced. Advisors are able to share their understanding of these materials in a variety of ways.


At the Basic Level, a staff person performing the readers' advisory function:


Is familiar with current culture

Is aware of various formats

Maintains a current awareness of publishing trends

Keeps up-to-date on what is being read by patrons and non-patrons in the library's service area

Is aware of reading lists, suggestions from the media and from groups in the community including            its schools

Is familiar with series

Consults appropriate resources

Scans current reviewing sources

Is able to find and use information about books from a variety of sources

Is able to link popular authors to various genres, topics, etc.

Is willing to read books and reviews in all genres

Is aware of contents of the local collections and related collections

Is open minded in assessing and reading books

Shows enthusiasm for books and reading

Pursues a personal plan for reading


At the Enhanced Level, the readers' advisory person:


Shares knowledge of books and sources with other staff and patrons, including using electronic means

Is able to develop personal reading lists for others

Is able to do book talks

Is able to write annotations

Is able to lead book discussions

Advocates with co-workers for subject access to popular titles


B. Understanding People as Readers and Readers as People


Readers' advisors understand that the reading experience is not restricted to texts. What gives books meaning and value is the reader's interaction with them. Readers are influenced by a wide range of behaviors, tastes and experiences. Different people read for different reasons and in different ways. Advisors are aware of these differences and are constantly deepening their appreciation of the diversity that exists in readers. Individuals providing readers' advisory services are reader-centered in that the reader's tastes, values and desires determine what authors and titles are suggested.


At the Basic Level, a staff person performing the readers' advisory function:

          Understands people as readers, i.e., why, how, when, what they read, both as a group and as individuals. This includes recognizing:


People read to learn

People read to affirm what they know

People read to gain new information

People read for specific purposes

People read for different purposes

People have various reading skill levels

People desire reading materials at a variety of levels of difficulty

People look for different voices in their reading

People incorporate insights, facts, and ideas from reading into their lives

People's reading abilities and tastes evolve over time

People may read widely, from many genres, topics and formats

People's reading tastes are more different than alike

People read the same books at different times in their lives

People bring their life experience to reading

People read for recreation and to recreate themselves

Peer interests are a driving force in many people's reading selections


Understands readers as people

Understands readers' advisory service to be reader-centered, i.e.,

          each reader should be treated with respect

          each reader should be treated equally and fairly

          each reader should be able to expect recommendations of books at the desired reading level

each reader should expect staff to be knowledgeable about the genres, topics, and formats s/he enjoys

          each reader's interests and desires should form recommendations

          each reader's comments and reactions to books should be heard

          each reader's reading behavior should be accepted and understood


Is able to identify reading levels or abilities at which readers are able to or wish to read

Makes recommendations without making assumptions about an individual's age, sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, marital status, or status in regard to public assistance

Is open, receptive and welcoming to readers

Supports readers in their talking about books

Is able to recommend appropriate format to readers based on knowing the collection and other sources


At the Enhanced Level, the readers' advisor:

          Is able to determine reader behaviors and use them to aid the reader in selecting materials

          Is able to help readers reflect on their reading history and develop reading plans

          Is able to share interview questions with reader

          Reads the research on why people read, e.g., reader response studies

          Reads research on information seeking behavior

          Advocates for readers' advisory service with library administration as well as others

          Is able to plan services

          Is able to conduct action research, including analysis of Readers' Advisory Service within library


At the Exemplary Level, the readers' advisory person:

Is able to write about readers' advisory experience for newspapers and professional publications

Is able to develop programs that recognize the time limitations for readers, e.g., waiting lists, pay per read

Is able to suggest sources for appropriate fiction, as well as non-fiction, in responding to information requests

Is able to identify staff with readers' advisory capability


C. Appeal of Books


Books attract readers for a variety of reasons. Readers' advisors need to develop an understanding of all of the factors that make a book attractive and interesting to a reader. Factors are called appeal characteristics. The ability to analyze a book's appeal is at the heart of providing good readers' advisory service. They may or may not include those characteristics that are frequently referred to as literary. Advisors should not limit themselves to a small set of characteristics, they should engage in a constant process of identifying characteristics that are shared among readers.


At the Basic Level, a staff person performing the readers' advisory function is able to:


Name and define the appeal factors common to books:


Character                       ideas

Plot                                 authenticity

Setting                           sexuality

Language                       violence

Genre                             profanity

Time frame                    length

Pacing                            format

Mood                              writing style



Identify appeal factors of author:


Sexual content                ethnicity

Religion                          intellectual bent

Gender                           social attitudes


Use appeal characteristics for a particular book as defined by others in working with readers.


At the Enhanced Level, the readers' advisory person is able to:

          Analyze a particular title according to appeal characteristics I order to:

                   Write an annotation

                   Present verbally

                   Validate annotations with readers

          Write a critique and compare it with those of others


At the Exemplary Level, the readers' advisory person is able to:

          Recognize or identify new appeal characteristics, e.g., emerging genres, patterns


D. Readers' Advisory Transaction


When readers' advisors are interacting with readers, they are having conversations with the readers about books. While many of the competencies, techniques and strategies effective in reference work are useful in readers' advisory work, readers' advisors need to be aware of key differences between them. In reference work, staff are frequently moving toward a right answer. In readers' advisory work, staff are identifying possibilities for the reader. The advising role requires a different stance from the information-provider role. Advisors act as consultants rather than experts in these transactions. Advisors are capable of moving between the two modes, as required by a situation.


At the Basic Level, a staff person performing the readers' advisory function is able to:

          Elicit information from the reader about their reading interests

Use appropriate listening techniques, i.e., listen for what is important to the reader -- e.g., character, setting, theme, plot, effect

Verify one's understanding of what reader said

Exhibit enthusiasm about reading and interests of readers

Establish an open and welcoming climate

Establish patron's time parameters, including being aware of others waiting, and determining when inquiry doesn't need immediate response

Expand reader's area of interest

Frame appropriate open questions

Make suggestions in a non-judgmental way, i.e., accept readers standards

Suggest specific works that relate to what reader said is important to them

Match the patron's terminology and approach, respecting each patron's needs and requests

Interact with all readers appropriately, fairly, and respectfully

Analyze the interests and tastes of readers

Be open about personal familiarity and experience with a genre, author, etc.

Determine whether patron prefers:

          -Conversation with like readers

          -Self help with computer tool, and/or book lists

Use print and electronic readers' advisory sources

Develop local sources in requested subject

Involve the reader in the search:

          -In sources

          -On shelf

Describe a book briefly

Informs the reader about availability of books off-site


At the Enhanced Level, the readers' advisory person:

          Observe nonverbal behavior of patrons to determine initial contact

          Is able to speak about books in a way that piques the interest of possible readers

          Is familiar with and calls upon special knowledge of other staff

          Plans opportunities for staff to share expertise and reading

          Encourages readers to report back if they like suggestions

          Encourages ongoing relationship with reader


At the Exemplary Level, the readers' advisory person is able to:

          Establish a readers' advisory area appropriate to library size and activity including:

                   -Reference sources

                   -Displays of new books, just returned books, videos, audio books, etc.


                   -Appropriate signage

          Experiment with the library's physical facility to encourage readers' advisory service

          Experiment with techniques promoting readers' advisory service



E. Managing


All library staff perform some supervisory and managerial functions including operating within a budget, supervising and training others. Those who manage readers' advisory service programs will need to develop additional managerial abilities and skills in order to ensure that their programs are effective and efficient. These individuals will also need to develop skills in coordinating readers' advisory services between individuals and departments whose focus may be on other aspects of serving the community and institution.


At the Basic Level, the staff person:

          Is able to develop a budget

          Is able to supervise others

          Understands the functions of other governmental units

          Is able to relate to and involve the community in the library's program


At the Enhanced or Exemplary Level, the person managing readers' advisory service programs;

          Is able to organize and direct people, activities, programs, resources

          Is able to develop policies, guidelines and standards

Is able to use appropriate planning processes, including the use of appropriate environment scanning, community and library assessment techniques to determine appropriate level of Readers' Advisory Service for a library

Is familiar with financial management theories and methods

Is able to develop grant proposals

Is familiar with personnel management and human resource development principles and practices

Is able to use appropriate evaluation techniques


F. Teaching


Readers' advisory service is more than linking readers with new authors and titles. Two major goals of readers' advisory service (increasing readers understanding of what it is they are looking for and deepening readers' appreciation of story in their lives) require advisors to be teachers. Teaching in this service takes many forms. It can be incorporated into the readers' advisory transaction itself. The advisor may lead a book discussion group where readers share and deepen their connection to a particular book. An advisor may create a booklist, schedule an author appearance or introduce a reader to a readers' advisory resource. All of these require a basic understanding of how readers learn and how to create effective educational experiences for readers.


At the Enhanced Level, this person:

          Understands the learning process in adults

          Is familiar with techniques for teaching adults

          Is able to adapt content and teaching technique to target individual and group needs,

          Knowledge and comprehension level

          Is able to develop learning goals and objectives

          Is able to select and use appropriate audiovisual aids for teaching

          Is able to design, plan and organize learning units

          Is able to use mentoring and coaching method as appropriate

          Is able to use appropriate evaluative measures for training activities

          Is able to identify learning needs of target groups


G. Professional Knowledge and Attitudes


Readers' advisors must develop and apply professional attitudes to their work, as well as understand the purposes of readers' advisory service and of public library service.


At the Basic Level, a staff person performing the readers' advisory function:

          Is aware of the purpose of library service in society

          Understands purpose and philosophy of readers' advisory service

          Is committed to equal service for all patrons

          Is committed to protecting patrons right to privacy in their search for information

          Reaffirms the First Amendment

          Is committed to defending the right of people to access of information in their pursuit of


          Advocates reading and reader advisory service internally and externally

          Is committed to maintaining a high standard of personal and professional ethics

          Attends professional meetings

          Keeps up-to-date with relevant professional publications

          Participates in continuing education activities

          Keeps informed concerning trends, topics, research and issues in librarianship, adult

services, adult readers, reading and education


H. General Competencies


Readers' advisory staff have a common need for some competencies. These include personal attitudes and traits.


Each person:

          Is able to work with others effectively

          Is approachable

          Is adaptable

          Exhibits enthusiasm and interest

          Continues learning

          Is self-confident

          Accepts, learns and uses appropriate information technologies

          Is curious, inquiring

          Has self-control (i.e., is able to remain calm, objective, neutral in stressful situations)

          Has problem solving abilities

          Is willing to risk


More information about the Reader's Advisory Services workbook.

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