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Book Riot: I Bribed a Librarian to Pick Out Books

Earlier this month, fellow Book Rioter contributor Jeff O’Neal observed that “discoverability” isn’t really a problem for the readers he knows, making new sites like Bookish.com a solution looking for a problem. Curious about what some less-connected readers thought, I asked my Facebook friends (most of whom are not deeply connected to the “book world”) how they find books to buy and how they decide to what to read next. While most of the answers seemed pretty standard — friends, bloggers, Goodreads, the new book shelf at the library, and various mainstream media sources — one of the answers struck me as totally awesome:

True story: I bribed a librarian (after a brief conversation about my general reading interests) to constantly stick new/interesting things in my hold queue. Best. Thing. Ever. It’s like Netflix for the library, now!

I am in love with this idea. How fun would it be to task a well-read person to develop a personally curated queue of books that will arrive for you to borrow intermittently, at no charge, based on what is new or exciting that seems to fit with your general reading tastes? It sounds almost too good to be true.

Most readers already find ways to build their own “librarian” for recommendations, finding friends or bloggers or book reviewers who seem to have similar tastes then seeking out their recommendations. But that system still has an element of choice — this Frankenstein’s monster of a librarian may cobble together a list of books that seem interesting, but you as the reader still end up making the choice of what to buy/borrow/bypass.

Having a real-life personal librarian could be so much better. Once the relationship was built, and with enough feedback about which books were interesting and which books fell flat, you could almost guarantee that your personal librarian would pick out some things that would be of interest to you. And since it’s a queue of library books, the decision about whether to spend money on an unfamiliar book is eliminated, making the barrier to trying something new really low.

My local library already offers a similar program (on a very limited scale) through book deliveries to people in the community who are home bound for a length of time. Participants fill out a form talking about their general reading tastes and interests, then every couple of weeks a librarian brings them a small selection of books. One of the librarians I talked to said she tries to bring two books from familiar authors or genres and one book that is new to help expand the books that are available. Although the participant pool is small, I get the sense that those involved really enjoy it.

Does this sound like a cool idea, or am I just being crazy? Would you be willing to turn over your library queue to a librarian in exchange for personalized book recommendations?

This post originally appeared on Book Riot. 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joanna February 25, 2013, 10:37 am

    I think I’d prefer a mixture. It would be fun to have personalised recommendations, but sometimes I like to read something completely different and those books I think I’d need to choose myself based on reviews etc.

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:51 pm

      That’s a good point. I don’t think I’d want someone to entirely take over my reading list, but I think if I could find the right person I could get some different recommendations into my rotation.

  • Lynn @ Books on the Bay February 25, 2013, 11:48 am

    I love this idea! It’s like a personal stylist but for books – especially if like a personal stylist, the librarian takes your favorites and classic pieces and comes up with some new ones that match it as well as a few “pop” pieces, things that are different to encourage you to step out of the box a bit.

    I bet there’s an online market for this. Something like three books sent every three months for a fee, ala other month to month subscriptions!

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:52 pm

      Ha, a personal book stylist. That analogy is funny, but right on target.

      I feel like I’ve heard about an online service similar to this before, but I don’t think it included personalized recommendations (just a large library to select books from).

  • Tanya Patrice February 25, 2013, 12:23 pm

    I would absolutely do this! I would be thrilled every time I went to the library to see what new discoveries awaited me.

  • Jeanne February 25, 2013, 3:39 pm

    It’s a great idea! I’d love it.

  • Teresa February 25, 2013, 4:04 pm

    I love this idea. I think it would work to keep you in books that you like by authors you know, but also expose you to new and different things that you might not have selected on your own.

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:53 pm

      That’s the part that appeals to me — personalized recommendations for new books without any cost.

  • Jenny February 25, 2013, 5:56 pm

    I’d be interested in this except that it would get to feel like an obligation — like, aaa, no, you haven’t finished the last books you got, but here are these new ones! Read them read them! Go go go!

    That apart, it would be great to have an unending flow of recommendations from someone whose job it is to know about good books.

    • Care February 26, 2013, 7:39 am

      I was thinking the same thing! GUILT and embarrassment when I never ever seem to checkout the books the librarian has HELD for me. Because I would get overwhelmed, I just know it.

      • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:54 pm

        Ha, I didn’t even think of this! I think what would be ideal is if they worked on your hold list, but you had some control over how many books you had/were getting at a time so you could match your reading pace to the books? That might be tricky, but I bet it’s doable.

  • Ali February 25, 2013, 7:42 pm

    I think it’s a great idea….for other people. Personally, I sometimes think I enjoy choosing what books to read even more than I enjoy actually reading them! (So, maybe I should apply for this job?)

    • Care February 26, 2013, 7:40 am

      I’m guilty of this, too. The fun is in the choosing -especially with challenges. And then I never read them.

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:54 pm

      I love making reading lists. I think I’d have fun doing this for someone else.

  • Charlie February 26, 2013, 7:09 am

    It sounds like a great idea, though I’m not sure I’d try it personally. A good one as an introduction or if you have a hard time choosing books, though. What Jenny’s said is interesting, an obligation, though at the same time if you said you hadn’t liked the books the person would only get better at recommendations.

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:56 pm

      I think it would take awhile to build up a relationship so you’d know what they were picking for you, definitely. And even friends don’t always pick winners, but that’s why it’d be good at the library — no obligation to buy.

  • Anastasia @ Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog February 26, 2013, 12:48 pm

    I also think it’s a great idea, only I’d totally prefer to be the chooser than the choosee. I wanna rec books for people and stick them in their hold queue! Then they’d HAVE to read them, or the GUILT WOULD TEAR THEM APART. It’s like literary blackmail! Bwahahaha!

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:56 pm

      Ha! Literary blackmail sounds dark, but I see where you’re going :)

  • Amelia February 26, 2013, 1:12 pm

    I’m a librarian at a small branch and while we don’t add the books to the person’s hold list we do have patrons that we’ll recommend books to as we see them on order lists or as they come across the desk.

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:56 pm

      That’s cool! I don’t know if I’ve ever developed a relationship with a library — except in elementary school — where I’d consistently get recommendations. It sounds awesome though.

  • Steph February 26, 2013, 6:57 pm

    Kim, when I worked at a library, I was a “reader advisor” for the Talking Book Center. It was my job to choose books for people based on their preferences. It could be a lot of fun.

    I think this is a great idea. I’d LOVE to see what someone would choose for me based on some knowledge of what I enjoy. :-)

    • Kim February 27, 2013, 6:57 pm

      It sounds like such a fun job! I think maybe it appeals to me because I’d also love to be the book chooser.

  • Vasilly February 26, 2013, 7:02 pm

    I think this is a great idea!

  • Jennifer February 27, 2013, 9:39 am

    I love this idea! I’d love to be a personal librarian for someone like that! The POWER! Muahahahaha! 😉

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey March 5, 2013, 1:35 pm

    I agree with Jennifer – being the personal librarian would be a lot of fun! But even though I’d enjoy getting personal recommendations, I definitely wouldn’t want a librarian to choose which books I actually brought home.