“Teen Readers’ Advisory Toolkit”: Matching Books to Teens

30 Mar

Some time ago I was granted the opportunity to attend the YALSA Symposium 2010. My first session of the day was Teen Readers’ Advisory Toolkit, led by Crystal Faris and Stephanie Squicciarini. Below is some of the advice I gleaned from the session. It has been slightly modified and annotated, but is mostly paraphrased from the aforementioned presentation.

Although teen users visit the libraries for myriad reasons, one of the main ones is to pick up books for reference or education. Read the below for ideas on how to become a trusted source of knowledge and recommend books to young people.

Build an active or nearby presence in the teen area of the library, but don’t be invasive. You want to make teens feel comfortable approaching you, and engaging with you even if they’re not looking for a specific material or not certain what they want. Clearly many of our libraries don’t have reference desks in the teen area, so tidying or editing books or other useful but non-invasive area maintenance may be useful. Simply looming in the area may make teens feel spied upon. If you linger nearby, teens who need help will eventually ask you for your advice.

When advising teens about their reading material, the most essential thing is to listen actively, and “with a purpose.” Be direct in vocal expression and maintain open/relaxed body language, because teens are still developing the prefrontal cortex and learning to interpret body language and facial expressions. Teens don’t just want a good listener, they want to engage in conversation, so express that you’ve heard them, and engage them with active questions. Faris and Squicciarin pointed out that when teens say “I want a book just like it” doesn’t mean “I want a book with the same plot” but one that makes them feel as intensely as the book they just finished did. They add: “Make sure you’re not just heading for the fiction section, but that you’re heading for what the teen really wants to read.”

When you do get around to recommending a book, use active, exciting and descriptive language and keywords to pique their attention (as Faris said, use “words that create active images and pictures in your mind”). This always makes me think of the film The Princess Bride, in which the grandfather (reading the story The Princess Bride to his grandson) describes the book as containing “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, [and] miracles.” I recently sold the Lord of the Rings trilogy to a tween using a similar description!

Ask teens four questions:

1) Are they looking for something specific?

2) Do they read a great deal, or not so much?

3) What was the last book or movie they enjoyed? Or: what is their favourite game? (Faris the example that teens who enjoy world-building games are more likely to enjoy SF/F books, shooter games might indicate interest in war books, action books such as Young Bond.)

4) Ask whether they’re read anything recently that they loved or hated.

Advising parents is a delicate art. One should try to speak to the teen directly (if they are present), and gauge their actual reading interests. However, it is also important to make the parent feel as though they aren’t being talked over or ignored. If the teen isn’t present, write down your contact details and tell the parent, “if these [books] don’t appeal to them, here’s my card, email or come in and I can give you some other suggestions.”


3 Responses to ““Teen Readers’ Advisory Toolkit”: Matching Books to Teens”

  1. Emma @ Asamum March 30, 2011 at 09:29 #

    Great post – thank you. I have written down the ideas connected to the gaming – really helpful 😀

    • Young Adult Library Services UK March 31, 2011 at 10:13 #

      I’m glad you found it useful! Games do contain stories, but I admit that before I heard this talk I’d never thought to ask teens about favourite games when they requested book recommendations.

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