Readers Advisory is my favorite thing. I cannot tell you how much I love talking about books with people. My banker asks me for suggestions for his kids every time I visit the bank. While library staff give out suggestions all the time, I think we are all feeling more apprehension in this political climate. We can’t know the content in every book ever printed. However, there is help for that! Here are some resources to use or give out to people to find the right fit:
Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org)
CSM rates entertainment. This includes movies, books, podcasts, games, and shows. They look for things like violence, sex, language, but also role models and positive messages as well as educational value.
Does the Dog Die (doesthedogdie.com)
DTDD is a crowdsourced tool for emotional spoilers in movies, TV, books etc. Yes, it definitely includes animals passing away. But this also can find things like hate speech, violence, death, drugs, swearing, and so much more.
Whatever your feelings about Amazon are, they have a fabulous tool in the “Look Inside” feature for most print books. You can use this feature to search how many times certain words appear inside the book. Though, you do have to type them in yourself which can be pretty awkward at the Reference Desk.
Graphic Novel Ratings
A lot of graphic novels have a rating next to the ISBN number. For instance, Dragonball Z is rated A for all ages, Beastars is rated T+ for older teens, Black Panther: Long Live the King is rated T for teens, and the Sandman series is rated M for mature readers.
This subscription site is one of my favorite readers advisory tools! Not only does it have read-alikes, genre breakdowns, book discussion questions, and…I could go on and on, but it also has some helpful tips for reading levels. In each youth/teen item entry, there is a Min/Max Grade level and a Lexile number. While Novelist doesn’t do a deep dive into the content, there is also a Theme section which can hint at any controversial subjects covered in the book. Novelist is available to all Idaho libraries through Lili.org.
Another issue that can arise with patrons looking for content guidance is lack of specificity. What one person thinks of as “clean” might not match with what the staff person feels is “clean.” It helps for a family or individual to have their own Content Guide. My supervisor has a quick and easy way for patrons to come up with their own guide for reading materials. This includes three categories: specific, individual, and flexible.
Here is a snippet of her tips:
Specific: As a family, discuss what kinds of themes and content are best for your family and why they are right for you. Then come up with specific words to use when asking for help in finding materials.
Non-specific descriptions: a clean book; a book with diverse characters
Specific descriptions: a book with minimal/light swearing, if any, and no descriptions of sexual intercourse; a book where the main character is a person of color.
Individual: Each person in your family is different, so their personal Content Guides should be individualized to meet their specific needs. Discuss with each family member themes, content, and topics that are too sad, too scary, too emotional, or too intense to be read or viewed without causing discomfort to the reader and incorporate those into their personal Content Guide.
Flexible: Personal Content Guides should be flexible both over the years and in the moment. As readers of all ages mature, interests, content, and thematic preferences will evolve. Make a plan to review your family Content Guide and individual Content Guides regularly, perhaps once each year, to see what revisions should be made.
I hope this article has been helpful for you and gives you more tools for helping patrons find reading materials that fit their needs.
By Maggie Dumont