Finding their next great book

What I do: Reader Advisor Chelsea White recommends books to Perkins Library patrons, based on their literary likes and dislikes

Chelsea White sits in front of a bookcase full of blue audio books.

Chelsea White is a reader advisor at Perkins Library who works with patrons in person, over email and on the phone to find new books to read.

December 1, 2016

People throughout New England turn to Perkins Library for audio and braille books. Chelsea White works as a reader advisor, offering book recommendations to patrons who are blind or visually impaired, or who can’t access traditional print media. This story was compiled and edited by Karen Shih.

To be a good reader advisor, you have to be able to recommend books you don’t necessarily like. For me, those are novels by authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich. But even though I prefer the “Outlander” series and “Game of Thrones” and basically any non-fiction about dogs, I’ve read some of the popular thrillers to familiarize myself with the tone and style, since these titles are the most requested.

Our patrons come from Massachusetts and the surrounding states. They call up, they come in or they email and I help them find their next great book. That involves chatting with them a little bit, getting to know their likes and dislikes and making recommendations based on their reading history. Perkins Library isn’t only for people who are blind; it’s for anyone who can’t hold a book or turn pages, or who have any difficulty with traditional print books, including people who have dyslexia.

Why do people need a reader advisor? There are resources online like Goodreads and NoveList for finding new books. You think, “I know what I like to read and I like these authors.” But, as a professional librarian, I spend a lot of time studying literature. I may know of a more obscure author or an author that doesn’t necessarily write about the same subjects that you’re interested in but has a very similar tone.

I came to Perkins from the Worcester Public Library in March. My interactions and relationships with patrons are more in depth here, which I like. My attention isn’t divided. In a busy, urban public library I’d be on the desk watching everything around me and doing five things at once. Now, I get to spend more time and attention on each person.

We have a lot of regulars – people who call every day and others who come in weekly. It’s as much about getting books as the social experience. If I really get to know someone and see a book came out that I think they would like, I make a note of it and next time they call or come in let them know.

Many of the patrons I speak with are older and some are homebound. For them, this service can be a lifeline. But we have patrons of all ages, from toddlers and up. Some choose to get their books online by downloading them, rather than getting them in a physical format.

It’s great to promote literacy and the enjoyment of literature. One aspect that’s really interesting to me is talking to people who became blind later in their lives. Some of them say, “I never read a book when I was sighted!” Now they love them and read them constantly. 

Not yet a Perkins Library patron? If you are a Massachusetts resident with a visual impairment or other reading disability, you may qualify to have free audio, large-print or braille reading material sent to you. View eligibility guidelines and apply » 

Or call 1-617-972-7240

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