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The Readers’ Advisory Interview

This is a Readers’ Advisory technique that calls for “direct questioning” between the bookseller or librarian and the reader to discern the individual’s reading preferences and tastes and use quick-reading techniques to recommend books (see Tapas For Readers).

This is a follow-up post to the training I attended at the 2012 Library Skills Winter Institute in Columbia, MO.

The Standard Approach To Conducting An RA Interview (staff to customer)

The readers’ interview consists of the following:

  • Know the materials in your collection.
  • Bring a smile to work. Cheerful staff are generally more approachable if a reader needs help.
  • Ask questions.
  • Listen to the feedback provided.
  • Post-its are good for note-taking. Use them often.
  • Provide suggestions and encourage readers to return their book choices with feedback — did they like it? Yes? No? Why?

The above bullet points were adapted, with gratitude, from Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library by Joyce G. Saricks and Nancy Brown (reprinted from workshop materials).

Staff (such as booksellers, librarians and other professionals) use direct questioning methods like this to pinpoint a reader’s tastes in books and direct them to similar titles that they may enjoy, and doesn’t everyone enjoy a good book?  Keep reading below to find out how you can do your own reader’s interview.

A Self-Guided RA Interview (DIY)

I developed an approach for readers to conduct their own readers’ advisory interview and briefly shared this method with the 2012 Library Skills Winter Institute class over the course of the workshop.  Here you get the full approach which I have used in the past to help my learn my reading interests.

If you’re a writer, this is also one way to figure out the terminology to describe your writing voice.  From my experience, I’ve found that my writing style is influenced by what I read (if I enjoy mysteries, I write mysteries, etc).

I have included my method here so you can try it at home.  Open or save this document, print, and then follow along with the instructions below.

File Download: DIY Readers’ Advisory Interview Worksheet (45 KB).

For your source material, you will also need access to a good RA program or you may wish to substitute book reviews, critiques and articles on authors and books you enjoy reading.  For this example, I will be using Novelist Plus, powered by Ebsco (free, available at most libraries, ask your librarian).

Here’s the link again to the file if you missed it:

File Download: DIY Readers’ Advisory Interview Worksheet (45 KB).


  1. Fill in the first section of the table under “Authors” and “Books” with up to 10 entries of your favorite writers or books.
  2. Under “Likes”, write words that you’d CURRENTLY use to describe what you enjoy about the author or book.
  3. Under “Dislikes”, write words that you’d CURRENTLY use to describe what you don’t enjoy.
  4. Using your RA program, look up the entries in the database (or the book reviews and critiques) for each author and book title you listed.

In Novelist, below the author’s name, we get a description of their writing techniques, the genre of their stories, and the book appeal terms that readers use to describe a) storyline, b) pace, c) tone, and d) writing style.

If you are using book reviews, critiques and articles, look at the wording used by the reviewer to describe the book.  For storyline, look for lingo like: plot-driven, character-driven,  ;  for pacing: fast-paced, slow-paced; tone:  moody, suspenseful, whimsical, romantic, dark, atmospheric , funny; and for writing style: richly detailed, witty, gritty, descriptive, engaging, or jargon-filled (like, for a Dan Brown novel).

There are literally dozens of descriptive book appeal terms that could be used.  When you’ve found some of this terminology (or something like it) in your source material, continue with the last steps below.

      1. Write down these elements under the categories on the worksheet.
      2. Once you’ve completed this step, take a look at your list for any common threads.

The Results:

In a perfect world, you should find some common elements on your sheet.  These similarities represent what parts of the book’s appeal that you like and didn’t like.  You may find that the wording matches what you wrote under the “Likes” and “Dislikes” columns earlier.  If that’s the case, great! You’re already using some of the lingo of readers for book appeal.

If not, take a look to see how your wording differs.  Are you describing elements of writing style or using adjectives and adverbs instead?

It is possible in this exercise to do multiple sheets.  This is a boon and bane.  If you’ve found you selected many different genres, you may not find many similarities in the categories of a) storyline, b) pace, c) tone, and d) writing style.  Adding an extra sheet will increase the pool of authors/books to draw from and you should find some commonality present.

When looking for new fiction (or non-fiction), if you discover a new book and you’re unsure if you’ll like it, you can sample the book in 15 minutes or less. You’ll never again have to miss out on a potentially great read just because the author or work is unknown.

After completing the exercise today, what have you discovered  about yourself and the books that you enjoy?  Please leave a comment and share your discoveries!

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This entry was posted in: Lifestyle


Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has two decades of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at

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