Thursday, February 2, 2017

Secret Shopper Assignment

When entering my unnamed library, I looked around to see if there was a Readers’ Advisory area and I easily found a sign that said “Information Services.” As I approached the desk, I saw signs for various programs the library was offering as well as an occasional handout about computer help and services. I did not see any booklists, though there were several book displays around the area including a Valentine’s Day/romance display.

Upon approaching the desk, I was a little bit nervous. Despite being on the other side of a readers’ advisory transaction often enough, I typically do not ask strangers for book recommendations. However, the sole librarian sitting there greeted me with a polite smile and “Hello, can I help you with something?” I asked him if he could recommend a good book to read. He looked taken off guard slightly and then said with a chuckle that he actually did not get that question often enough. He began by asking what was the latest book that I had read or that I had enjoyed. “In readers' advisory transactions, you need above all to create a climate that encourages readers to talk about books and authors. A good open question that works for readers' advisers is “Can you tell me about a book you've read and really enjoyed?”” (Ross, Nilsen, & Dewdney, 2002, p. 162). I replied that I had really liked Horns by Joe Hill and he quickly inquired whether I wanted another book from the horror genre. After confirming that I did, he suggested that I tried reading some Stephen King because he is Joe Hill’s father. I said that while I love Stephen King, I wanted something a little shorter. He said that Stephen King had written a series of shorter books with the main character of Bill Hodges. I knew that this was more of a mystery series and told him I wasn’t really interested in mysteries. I have to admit, I was trying to make the process a little more difficult for him.

It was at this point that the librarian turned to his computer and said he was going to look at Goodreads. He said he had just read about a good horror story but could not remember the name. The computer was slightly angled towards me so I could see what he was looking up. Under his “want to read” list he found the title Swan Song by Robert McCammon. While it sounded interesting, it was close to 900 pages long. I reiterated that I was looking for something shorter. I could tell that he was starting to flounder a bit when he asked if I thought about reading some other Joe Hill books. I told him I had already read a few, but was looking for something shorter or faster paced. I quickly added, however, that I did not want a compilation of short stories, to which he seemed disappointed. He said his next suggestion would have been H.P. Lovecraft, whom I am not a fan.

It honestly seemed that he was about to give up, but I did not want to leave empty handed, so I added that I had loved The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King; it was a short paperback and was about a little girl getting lost in the woods. After a moment, he said he would check Novelist, which I was happy to hear. After typing in the title, he found the title read-alikes and the first one on the list was Micro by Michael Crichton. He read the description off to me and added that the book was about 400 pages long, but that it was described as fast-paced. It sounded really interesting and I knew I had taken up enough of his time. I asked if the library owned any copies and he said that there were four available and handed me the call number and pointed me in the right direction. At this point, I would have let the patron know they could come back if they had any troubles or more questions, but he did not.

              I was happy with the whole experience. I felt that the librarian was attentive and focused on my query and genuinely wanted to find a book that I would like. No one else approached the desk during this time, so I did not feel rushed by him or anyone else. While he was not specifically a readers’ advisory librarian, he was knowledgeable of different resources and I would definitely go back to him for another recommendation. We seemed to have similar book interests. Overall, I thought the experience was successful.


  1. I am so happy that I wasn't the only person who was nervous about asking someone for a book recommendation. I'm starting to get the feeling that most librarians in the library are caught off guard by RA questions. My librarian seemed actually excited to get to do this sort of work. It made me feel good but also a little sad because it happens so rarely.

  2. I'm glad you had a good experience!