–by Jennifer Heise, Reference Librarian and Web Manager
“What shall I read next?” is a question that confronts us voracious readers a few times a month, week, or day. Even if we have a teetering to-read pile on our bedside table, which ones (if any) will fit our reading mood?
Many years ago—when library floors were still marble, reference desks still mahogany, and computers a distant dream of the future–, librarians started tackling that “what’s next” question with a service called “Reader’s Advisory,” designed to help match readers with ‘read-alikes’ and themed fiction.
The advent of the Internet—connecting librarians and bibliophiles worldwide— offered a great opportunity. Information about books and their readers’ preferences could not just be collected, but also conglomerated into databases and made accessible to help other readers pick books! Advanced ‘web 2.0’ social media powered these applications. Now reader’s advisory and recommendation tools proliferate. Allow us to recommend a few!
This subscription service, available to those with New Jersey Library cards, is the online equivalent of the books librarians used to use to bolster their own experience in reader’s advisory. Look up a book or writer to find reviews, popularity ratings, and suggested read-alikes for the author, title,
and, if applicable, series. Not too flashy, but comprehensive and solid.
Goodreads– now owned by Amazon– is the giant of the online reading communities. Users rate books, post reviews and make subject lists. Looking up a book or author lets you see the reviews & ratings as well as “Readers also enjoyed” suggestions. You can search and view information for books without having an account, but setting one up lets you save your book lists and target recommendations from people you know. If you’re already glutted with social media, you can get your Goodreads updates through Facebook or Twitter.
If you like your suggestions visual—or you just are interested in a map of the literary world— try Literature Map. In the mood for something like Trollope? Enter Trollope, and the system displays a visual constellation of authors that others who enjoy Trollope also read. The closer the correspondence, the nearer the other author’s name; to explore further, try clicking on a related author—say, Patricia Wentworth– to see a map of books similar to hers.
If you are looking for books of a particular sort, rather than similar to another book or in a particular genre, this British service is for you. Set up to four of the twelve ‘quality’ sliders (Funny vs. serious, Larger than life vs. Down to earth, Optimistic vs. Bleak, Safe vs. Disturbing, etc.) to your current preferences, and click Go to get a selection of recommendations. (You can also choose by the more pedestrian Character, Plot and Setting, if you prefer.) Recommendations include a description, short extract, parallels (similar books), and the book’s profile. It’s especially helpful that you can limit to audiobooks, ebooks, or large print.
What should I read next?
Just what it sounds like. A ‘crowdsourced’ (that is, users make lists of their favorite books, and those that appear together most are recommended together) recommender. Enter the title and author of one item, see others. However, there are no reviews—the info link for books goes to Amazon.com. It’s quirky and idiosyncratic, but definitely worth a look.
Gale Books & Authors
This one is similar to Novellist, but with a section that’s free to the public. Search by author or title to get recommendations, or ‘drill down’ by increasingly detailed genre/type- everything from “inspirational fiction: Historical – Pre-history” to “popular romances: Ancient Evil Unleashed” and “western fiction: Serial killer.” More services are available if your institution/library/school subscribes.
This service is primarily for cataloging and reviewing your own books, but it uses that data to recommend similar books using members’ ‘tags.’ You can use it to find reviews and related books without creating an account. LibraryThing makes it easy—and cheap—for users to create their catalogs, though the resulting subject categories (not the user information) is used in services it sells to public libraries- your public library may already be using LibraryThing data in its catalog to suggest readalikes. (Web librarian Jenne Heise endorses LibraryThing for inventorying and searching one’s personal book collection—you can catalog up to 200 items for free, or as many as you like for a lifetime for $25.)
Not sure what to buy or suggest for a teen reader in your life? Or just one of the growing crowd who enjoys “young adult literature” as it’s known the trade? This teen-themed site features information about, as well as recommendations of, books for young adults (including many not bookstore-categorized as YA).
The Reader’s Advisory Link Farm
If we’ve hooked you on the idea of reader’s advisory services, check out this list of links for more.
— A version of this article orginally appeared in Visions, the Library Newsletter, Spring 2013.