| By Mary Ruby |
A question every librarian has encountered begins with “can you recommend a good book . . . .?” Whether that sentence’s conclusion is “for a twelve-year-old who loves dragons” or “about women in science” or “for my book club,” it counts as a reader’s advisory query. The goal of reader’s advisory work is to match books with readers, particularly for voluntary or leisure reading. The task is both enjoyable and challenging. Pointing people toward popular, critically acclaimed, or favorite books and encouraging reading is rewarding, but keeping up with the vast number of titles published across genres and age groups can be daunting.
Nearly 30 years ago, Gale entered the reader’s advisory arena with volume one of the aptly titled print series, What Do I Read Next? In 2008 the annual series became the foundation for Books & Authors, Gale’s online resource for reader’s advisory. Despite the new look and additional features to enhance the content, our core mission remained the same: to help users find a good book. We retained the original focus on popular and genre fiction, but also increased the emphasis on children’s and young-adult literature and built up the selection of nonfiction works.
The digital format of Books & Authors allows users to take advantage of all the indexing work done on featured titles over the years. Categorizing works by genre, setting/location, subjects, major characters, and time periods allows a variety of ways for books to become discoverable. For instance, a reader who enjoys Regency romances could use the “browse by genre” feature to first select Popular Romances and then arrow down to the Regency subcategory to find hundreds of titles. A user with more specific interests, say science fiction novels set in the 22nd century, could employ the “Who, What, Where, When” search. Tinkering with terms in the four search categories will allow the user to narrow and more easily review the results. (For detailed instructions on all of the ways to search for books and authors, see our webinar at https://support.gale.com/.)
Another way to uncover a new book is via the Expert Picks feature in Books & Authors, which presents lists of books chosen by subject-matter experts and librarians. If you’re not sure what you want to read, browsing these thematic lists might spark some ideas. Our latest lists took their inspiration from the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s 2018 theme, Libraries™ Rock! In addition to children’s and young adult lists, we’ve made music-themed suggestions for adults in mystery, inspirational, and popular fiction as well as nonfiction.
However, the most personalized recommendations in Books & Authors are located on an individual title’s book detail page: to find them, you can either scroll down to the recommended similar titles on the “about the book” tab or go directly to the “read-a-likes” tab.
These read-a-likes are chosen by our subject-matter experts and editors, not a computer algorithm. Over the years, our contributors have included librarians, professors of literature, bookstore owners, fiction writers, journal contributors, book reviewers, and editors. They’re prolific readers who enjoy sharing their discoveries. At a basic level, our suggestions may be based on subject, theme, and audience or reading level. However, we also make more nuanced connections, including the style, the “feel” or atmosphere, the use of humor, or the similarities between characters in different books. This is where reader’s advisory becomes an art—and our pursuit of this goal within Books & Authors is to help you find your next favorite book.
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