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Why this library volunteer doesn't recommend books

Remember the show “Cheers”? Set in a bar in Boston where everyone knew your name? Well, a library is “Cheers”—but instead of bottles there are books. A good librarian knows the regular patrons and their reading preferences. The librarian always has a good book to recommend—something in the patron’s favorite genre or by their favorite author or a “read-alike”. This is a task I always refused and will continue to refuse to do.

This seems a bit dramatic, I know. It stems from my idiosyncratic reading habits. I don’t have a favorite author or a favorite genre. (Although I do have some genres I don’t like.) I give a book one page to grab me. If, in the first page, it succeeds, then I will probably read it through. (Although If I don’t care about the story or the characters I will abandon the book no matter how far along I am in it.) I never know what I am going to like so it is very hard for me to suggest something to someone else.

Of course, if a patron is reading a series author (think Clive Cussler or Janet Evanovich) then there are usually lots more books in the series or a lot of “read alikes”. That certainly makes the task easier. But what if the patron asks “What have you read that you liked?” I don’t know where to start. The fact that I like a book has almost no bearing on whether someone else will like it. (A book is a bit like perfume in that way.) One of my favorite library staffers back in Illinois was a rock star at recommending books to patrons, but she and I almost never agreed on the books we liked. What was it about her reading experience that differed from mine? How was she able to so successfully identify a book a patron would like? I do know she was a more critical reader than I. She knew how to ask questions about a book that would never occur to me. Maybe her success was because she thought more deeply about what she was reading. I will never know because I am the “cookie monster” of reading—num num, crunch crunch and on to the next one.

My super power is knowing the new books that are coming out. I read book reviews and keep lists of books I want to read. Even if a book doesn’t make it on my To Read list, I will remember that it is being published and when. I was almost always close to the top of the Hold list on a new book because I placed holds well in advance of the library receiving copies. I never knew if I would like a book, but I was probably going to at least try to read it. If a patron comes in and asks “I heard about this book but I can’t remember the name” that’s when I shine. I almost always know the name, or if not the name, the author. But a good librarian can do this and knows if the patron will like it.

Now you know. If you come into the Bethel Library, don’t ask me what book you will like. I have no idea. Rather, ask the Library staff who have superpowers beyond my imagination.

By Jessica Jolly

Library Volunteer

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