Advisory: Four Sites That Will Help You Fake It
the internet, the most experienced librarians answered these questions
based on hours of reading The New York
Times’ best-seller list.
Serving in a reader's advisory (RA)
capacity in a library can result in both the most enjoyable and the
most frustrating conversations we have with patrons. Sample questions
may include, "Do you have that vampire book?" "Can you help me find the
book with the blue cover?" and "I want to read the entire Star Wars
series in order—can you help me figure out what that is?" You
most likely have had those types of questions, but if you have not, you
will. Reader's advisory is one of the joys of the library services
desk. You stand there for hours, waiting for patrons to walk up and ask
for help. But you have approximately 5 minutes to impress them before
they leave. Talk about pressure!
Before the internet, the most
experienced librarians answered these questions based on hours of
reading The New York Times' best-seller list.
Technology enables Google to become, in a sense, an alternative
librarian. Google can answer almost any question with a few clicks of
the mouse, if you know how to ask the right question. Those few clicks
will lead you to sites such as TasteDive, Goodreads, Fantastic Fiction,
and LibraryThing, which will change your RA life. Academic library,
public library, or school library—it does not matter what
kind you work in. While some of us may see the avid reader more than
others, we still have the occasional patron who approaches the service
desk with the expectation that he or she will discover his or her next
When in doubt about what to recommend,
here are some tools that will help you fake it, not that you need to.
Just recommending these resources may be the best advice you can give.
TasteDive (formerly TasteKid)
data from its other users to make recommendations for your reader.
In 2009, Andrei Oghina created
TasteDive (formerly TasteKid) with the help of his brother
Felix and friend Romi. TasteDive is a popular website that allows the
user to discover recommendations for books, music, movies, TV shows,
and games. It functions as a social media site and uses the trends of
the user to develop recommendations. Unlike most websites, TasteDive
does not require an account to receive recommendations, making it more
user friendly for school libraries that may have some restrictions on
can search everything in the site’s library, or they can
limit their search to filter by music, movies, shows, books, authors,
or games. This filter is key to advancing the results to search
specifically for book recommendations while conducting RA. The user
enters his or her search term in the search box, and the database
provides recommendations based on social media interaction, genre,
tags, and search terms. Instead of the database making its own
connections with tags, it takes the trends from the account users to
facilitate recommendations. For example, if five users enjoy Twilight,
but they also like The
Vampire Diaries, the system will see the trend
and make recommendations to other Twilight
fans as a possible title of interest.
The search engine makes
recommendations based on the popular search. For example, doing a
general search (under “EVERYTHING”) for Alice in Wonderland
provides movie recommendations, but with a prompt box asking,
“Did you mean book: Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland?” (see
Figure 1). Once the user selects the prompt box, it corrects its
recommendations to suggest book titles.
The search engine lists 10
recommendations at a time for the user to browse. It also has
interactive features for the user where they select a specific title. A
user with an account can “like,”
“dislike,” “save,” or
“meh” the results from the title’s source
box. This is a crucial feature for the account user because this
interaction is what influences the statistics generated for the search.
It either promotes the title for future recommendations or removes it
as a suggested title from the search. This interactive source box
provides trailers (linked from YouTube) for movie recommendations or
plot summaries from Wikipedia.
Using this tool as a librarian is
convenient because it does not need a user account to access materials.
TasteDive provides you with the information you need to convince the
reader you have read it, seen it, or played it (thanks to the detailed
Wikipedia summaries). However, librarians should still be aware of
trending titles since user interaction generates recommendations.
Therefore, if a title is new to the market, recommendations may not be
available yet. This tool is also a little more challenging to navigate
when searching for recommendations based on a book series. For example,
searching “Harry Potter” usually provides
recommendations for each book in the series. This results in seven of
the 10 recommendations, including each Harry Potter title, which can be
limiting when your patron reads the entire series and wants something
Regardless, this tool is useful for
doing a quick search, and creating a login provides more customized
results, especially for patrons with a similar taste in book genres.
Goodreads launched in 2007 and is the
oldest, but most successful, recommendation tool on the list.
Co-founded by Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, this site
functions as a social media tool. With more than 55 million users, it
provides a significant number of reviews, all submitted by other
When searching for a particular book
title, the user can see books that are similar to the title that other
readers enjoyed (see Figure 2). For librarians who have an account,
their patrons can friend them. This allows librarians to recommend
titles to specific individuals based on their friend list.
Goodreads' best features for
librarians are its series list and community-made lists. Most readers
enjoy reading books in order, even if they don't have a traditional
order. A quick Goodreads search for the series will resolve this issue
quickly by providing the intended reading
structure—chronological order or by publication date. For
example, The Arcane Society series (see Figure 3) is a popular one that
is easily confused since Jane Ann Krentz publishes under multiple pen
names (Amanda Quick, Jane Castle, Amanda Glass, Stephanie James, to
name a few). Regardless of the author's name, you can quickly navigate
to the correct order for recommending the book series.
The lists option is also a great way
to find book suggestions, as each list is customized by the Goodreads
community. To start, there are the more common lists to access, such as
"Books That Should Be Turned Into Movies," "YA Novels of 2016," and
"Best Books of the Decade: 2010s." But there are also more customized
lists, such as, "Hottest Guy on a Cover," "Best Adult Vampire Books,"
and "Memoirs by Women." There are thousands of lists to help you, and
they are all neatly organized by common tags (romance, YA fiction,
historical fiction, etc.). This list option comes in handy for those
challenging phone conversations with a patron who wants another book
recommendation, with the expectation that the librarian has read them
Fantastic Fiction is a collection of
fiction books and fiction author pages. It was created by a team in the
U.K. in 1999 before Dave Wands, the founder, left his IT job to work
for the company full time (Fantastic Fiction, 2016). This website also
shows a list of books published during the current month. This is a
great feature for patrons who check in regularly, anticipating their
favorite author's next book. The list of books usually includes those
by more widely known authors, such as Lee Child, Jeffrey Archer, James
Patterson, etc. The front page offers a great list for librarians who
are planning the next book display, considering that many of the books
Another outstanding feature is the
ability to search by a specific author. For example, George R.R.
Martin's author page has a brief bio along with a list of all the works
he's published (including short stories, short anthologies, and
collections). It also contains a list of upcoming books, such as The
Mystery Knight, which is slated for publication in July 2017.
Similar to Goodreads, Fantastic
Fiction provides the order of a book series. This comes in handy when
searching for book series, such as Junie B. Jones, in which reading the
books in order is not required, but the reader insists on doing so. As
with Goodreads, the user can click on a title for a summary, usually
provided by Amazon. In this case, it may read more like a sales pitch
than an informative overview.
The biggest downside to Fantastic
Fiction is that the site only searches fiction books, which
makes Goodreads' series list more appealing. But the collection of
books and authors on this site is extensive, and the author pages
provide an overview of all published works, whereas Goodreads
requires a few additional clicks. Sometimes, clicking a mouse can be
critical when providing RA since it requires additional time spent
searching and less time recommending. Overall, Fantastic Fiction is a
great RA tool for quickly accessing an author's collection as well as
what the author will be publishing soon.
Of all the sites mentioned,
LibraryThing is the most restrictive when it comes to access. Its
recommendations aren't as instant as TasteDive's and Goodreads'; it
requires users to have an account. As a social media site, it also
provides recommendations based on other users. In a nutshell,
LibraryThing is a social cataloging website that will provide book
recommendations for users who create bookshelves for their account.
This site is a great recommendation
tool for librarians with patrons who love keeping track of their books.
By creating bookshelves of books they own or have read, the site
generates feedback from other users based on the materials categorized.
LibraryThing is a community. There are
hundreds of book groups for readers to join. While Goodreads and
TasteDive focus on small communities of users (such as adding friends
to your friend list), LibraryThing focuses more on book groups. These
groups help expand the book recommendations as well as provide virtual
book clubs. However, the site also gives general recommendations based
on themes identified on the user's account. Therefore, if you have a
fan of vampire novels, and your book collection and shelves reflect
that, it is likely you will receive additional recommendations on
vampires, the occult, and supernatural fiction. It also allows the user
to search for book recommendations based on standard tags (science
fiction, historical fiction, etc.).
The most appealing feature of
LibraryThing is its latest addition, TinyCat. TinyCat is considered the
"OPAC for small libraries" (LibraryThing, 2016). It can be perfect for
individuals who want to sort their book collection into categories or
for small libraries with funding restrictions. As a volunteer librarian
for a small church library, I think this is an excellent site for
organizing the books and promoting them to its patrons. With a little
more than 500 books in the library (mostly cataloged in the 2000s),
this is a great way to organize them and promote them online so patrons
can access materials outside of church office hours, as well as
potentially check out materials. Access this catalog here: librarycat.org/lib/graceunited.
With hundreds of books published
monthly and self-publishing on the rise, the expectation that
librarians have the ability to read every book ever published will
never be met. Therefore, using tools such as these will help ease user
worries, and they require little experience with navigating. They can
be used by librarians for RA or book club marketing, and they can also
be promoted as resources for patrons to use. After all, on some
occasions, having patrons find their own recommendations (such as books
similar to Fifty Shades of Grey) can reduce some
of the more awkward RA scenarios. Whichever way you decide to use these
tools, always remember that RA boils down to community. Readers want to
feel connected to other readers and share their adventures, and that is
the advantage of these four websites. They demonstrate that behind
every great novel recommendation is a friendship that is just waiting
to be made.