Posted by: Katie | January 5, 2018

Dunneback’s Two Rules of RA

Earlier today, I saw some tweets. A good friend was trying to clarify the meaning of parameters that had been set for a discussion of “what’s the best X book”. Let’s just say the person’s responses were not the best. Especially as the person purports to be a librarian. I get wanting to be snarky and flippant. I certainly can be. But when you’re trying to have a discussion about books and start by saying (my paraphrasing here) “but you can’t include Y title AND THE LIKE because it’s shit” and then compound it by refusing to clarify what you mean by “and the like”, well, you lost me. And if you recognize this little exchange as being you, seriously rethink your role in this profession and discussing books. You pissed off a lot of readers, many of whom don’t think that book is the best example of X either.

Anyway, for those not on Twitter, and since Storify is going away, I’m copying and pasting my tweets into bullet form here:

  • So, hi. This is going to be a thread on reader’s advisory/RA. I got my start in the library world doing RA because I *love* talking about books and being an enabler.
  • Romance is very much my specialty as I’ve been actively seeking it out as a reader since I was 12. There’s a lot in romance I do read and a shit ton more that I don’t.
  • But, here’s the important thing. There’s these 5 laws of library science promulgated by S.R. Ranganathan. There are 2 that are core to RA work: 2. Every reader their book. 3. Every book its reader. This does not mean that there is a single book out there for *every* reader, but there is a reader out there for every book.
  • If you do any kind of RA work (and you might not even know that you are), you *have* to respect the reader. Their tastes are not going to be your tastes because we’re all individuals.
  • If you don’t respect the reader, they’re not going to trust you enough to come back. I try to pound this into the heads of library workers when it comes to romance, but it applies to *all* books read for leisure purposes.
  • or example, no way in hell am I going to read books on the current political climate. My doctor already has me on blood pressure meds.
  • *BUT* I know there are readers out there who are all grabby hands over it, and I’m going to do my best as a professional to make it available to them & guide potential readers to it.
  • Opening a “discussion” regarding the best books of whatever category with a clause that X type of books are automatically dismissed makes me think you’re not actually earnest about that discussion.
  • Sure, that book and related may not be my cup of tea for that best designation, but it is going to be the best X book for other readers out there. RESPECT THE READER.
  • This ties back to a conversation I had last week with about reader’s advisory ethics. Sure, there are books I may say “ennhhhh…ya sure?” about, BUT…
  • I also try to figure out *WHY* that book is going to appeal to other potential readers. Part of this is marketing. Alter ego’s working on a book on that intersection.
  • But part of it is just understanding why readers read. Readers’ tastes are going to change. It’s the one constant about RA work.
  • They’re going to change collectively and individually. Every reading experience is different because the reader is bringing new experiences to the table, even if they’re rereading a book.
  • Good discussion about books and what to read and why a book appeals is going to take this into account. Being open to discussion is the key of good RA work.
  • So, I’m petering out. Takeaway points: 1. Respect the reader. 2. Ranganathan knows his shit.

Later, I had a couple of requests to make this a t-shirt. So, get your “Dunneback’s Two Rules of RA” shirt at Zazzle! I do make a few bucks off of each sale.



  1. This is such an important post and I am constantly surprised that elitist comments continue to be made by library information professionals. A key point in the NSW Readers’ Advisory Committee training is that librarians are encouraged to “suggest” reading selections rather than “recommend” them thus taking some of the tastemaker status out of the information exchange.

    • I love that distinction!!

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