Ages and Stages of Readers’ Advisory

Infopeople regularly offers courses in developing and conducting readers’ advisory services targeting adults. Each time this online course is announced there are questions from potential registrants about whether the course is suitable for those performing advisory work with children and/or teens. While there are some aspects of working with anyone in search of the next good book to read that hold true across all age lines, there are some fairly strong differences as well–which is one reason why Infopeople addresses the needs of readers’ services for those working with children and with teens in specifically youth service-geared advisory training.

The most dramatic difference is that adults are just plain more hard headed when it comes to encouraging them to read outside of the genres or subjects they already know and love. Or, as my brother regularly told his kids while they were growing up: “Your skull won’t fully harden for another ten years, and I’ve already got a hard head. That means you can change your mind a lot more easily than I can.” Having worked with teens and books for twenty years, and with adult readers for–gasp–even longer, I have experienced what research suggests over and over. That is, readers’ advisory work with kids offers fairly accessible opportunities to expand those young, open skulled brains aesthetically as well as informationally; adult readers, on the other hand, are convinced, for the large part, that they know what they like and they would like more of that please. Or, don’t try to entice me to eat an English muffin when I ask for another cookie.

So, adult reading advice is about talking muffins and cookies (as well as pies, cakes and chocolate covered cherries) with dedicated proponents of just one of these options, while talking books with kids can be a stroll through a confectionary shop with someone you might be able to entice to try any–or all–the flavors and textures on offer. Which is to say, feeding readers of different ages is the inverse of feeding diners of different ages: when it comes to readers’ advisory service, it’s the kids who will try the succotash while the adults turn up their noses at untasted brussels sprouts.

Of course, there is a whole lot more–four weeks’ worth–of stuff to learn about working with adult readers to bring them satisfying advice. But that, in a nutshell (just to keep the food imagery coming), is why Reader’ Advisory Fundamentals isn’t an all-ages approach to service. It’s really about how to soften our own adult skulls so we can talk the talk and walk the walk outside our personal hard headed comfort zones.

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