How To

Tips for Getting the Best Book Recommendations from Your Librarian

Kristen Kwisnek

Staff Writer

Kristen Kwisnek is a public librarian based near Baltimore, Md. who specializes in children’s literature and services. When she’s not reading, writing, or librarian-ing, Kristen can be found with her amazing husband eating something delicious, watching ‘90s music videos, and dreaming of one day having a dog that she’ll pretend is Sirius Black.

“You’re a librarian? You must love to read!”

“You’re a librarian? You must know a lot about books!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard declarations like these when people find out I’m a public librarian. Books are the first thing that come to mind for most folks when they think about libraries and librarians. This is a generalization, of course, since public libraries offer much more than just books these days. Plus, there are myriad different kinds of librarians, some who don’t handle books on a regular basis at all. In my case, however, I definitely fit the bookish stereotype, and I’ve found that most public librarians have a strong penchant for the written word.

With this widespread librarians-love-to-read assumption, I was surprised by how few library patrons asked me or my co-workers for recommendations when I first started working in a public library. Upon reflection, however, I realize that asking a librarian for a book recommendation might be uncomfortable or intimidating. I’m a stranger, I’m behind a big imposing desk…why would anyone want to talk to me about what they should read next?

Well, I am here to say that I am dying to help you choose your next book, and chances are the librarian at your local branch is too. We want you to leave the library with a title that you’re going to love. Recommending books (or readers’ advisory as it’s called in library land) is not an exact science, though. If you’re going to take the plunge and ask a librarian for title suggestions, there are some things you can do to make sure you get the best out of the interaction.

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Come ready to share the titles of a few books you’ve loved

Genres you gravitate towards, authors whose work you consistently enjoy, or movies and TV shows you like watching would also be great to have in mind. Knowing this information will give your librarian a good place to start for suggesting read-alikes.

Determine what kind of “reading mood” you’re in

If you’ve been down in the dumps, you may want a light and amusing book to lift your spirits. Then again, you may find value in identifying with a character up against some challenges and a dramatic or emotionally intense title might fit your need better. Do you want brain candy? To learn something? To escape? There is bound to be a book that will fit your mood, so pinpointing how you want your reading experience to feel will help your librarian out a lot.

Have an idea of what is most important to you in a book

Is it the storyline? Characters? Writing style? Setting? Pacing? Think about the books you call favorites. Was it the action-packed plot that grabbed your attention? Was it the growth of the characters that spoke to you? Was it the beautiful language that made reading the book a joy? Figuring out the appeal certain books had for you can be incredibly helpful in narrowing down the kind of book you’d enjoy next.

Identify triggers or things that you know you don’t want to read about

The last thing a good librarian would want to do is recommend a book that makes you uncomfortable or reminds you of past trauma. If zombies or violence aren’t your thing, make it known.

Share your format preferences

Knowing your format preference will ensure that time isn’t wasted searching for titles that aren’t available in your favorite format. If you’re an ebooks-only kind of reader, it would be a bummer to get a recommendation for a book that’s only available in print.


I hope these tips are helpful, and if you’ve never asked librarians for book recommendations before, why not give it a try? I bet you’ll make their day if you do!