Recommendation Assistance with RA Requests

(Jennifer D.) #1

Hi everyone!!

I thought it would be useful to have a dedicated space where we can ask other RAs for help if we feel stuck or limited in processing requests.

I ran into a funny situation yesterday, which is what triggered the idea. The user did not fully complete the bot questionnaire and had noted only one novel -- a wonderful work of adult fiction which was definitely within my realm of comfort and experience. But when I claimed the request, and clarified further with the user, she was actually looking for children's/YA recommendations, an area that isn't really a solid wheelhouse for me. I ended up with some good ideas for her, I feel, but I definitely could have used some help with that one.

(Though realizing a real time SOS may not be immediately addressed, due to our varied schedules, I hope this thread will still be a useful resource for us.)


(Kate Minckler) #2

This is such a great idea!!

Yes, even if we can't help each other in real-time, we can certainly offer suggestions that can be passed along to the users after the main chat back-and-forth.

Go team readers' advisory! :smiley:

(Kate Minckler) #3

Okay, here's one I've been working on! The person liked Seabiscuit, saying it was "captivating," and The Secret Life of Bees, saying the "story flowed nicely." They also like The Hobbit... So I've sort of been focussing on historical fiction with a strong personal journey. I wasn't sure how to tie The Hobbit into things! The person then said they enjoyed books on pretty much anything, which left it sort of wide open. Any suggestions? Can you see a theme pulling these books together that I've missed?

(Jennifer D.) #4

The idea of a journey tying the books together totally came to my mind too - each of the journeys are different, but all are internal and external transformational exercises. Something about being purposeful is niggling at my brain too, along with life being just a little bit magical, explainable or otherwise. :slight_smile:

Some ideas I had, for you to look into further for your user:

Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
The Red Tent, Anita Diamond
Under the Tuscan Sun (nonfiction), Frances Mayes
The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obrent
Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
The Tiger, John Vaillant (nonfiction, SO "captivating" - almost reads like fiction and utterly engrossing!)
The Antelope Wife, Louise Erdrich



(karenbrissette) #5

i think another thing it will help to remember is that you don't necessarily need to find a suggestion that is going to cover alllll of their expressed bases. the only prompt they have is to list a favorite book or books. if i were to list my favorite books, it would be pretty difficult to find a unifying theme that wasn't really forced, which would probably not result in a great suggestion anyway. i think for our purposes, the most useful thing to focus on is the part where they are allowed more freedom to talk about the things they enjoy in books (if they have, in fact, taken advantage of this space in the questionnaire). because while it is very useful to understand what they have enjoyed in the past, they might not be looking for a match to that specific title at this moment. infinite jest is one of my all-time favorite books, but i'm not always in the mood to read something so vast and complicated. if i were responding to the prompt, i would totally list it, because it's factual, but users might not know, their first time out, how this process works and might not be looking for a readalike for a favorite title, but something that suits their reading mood right now. obviously, this is different for readers who hew closely to one genre, where connected themes are clearer, but many people are all over the place in their tastes, so the common theme isn't always obvious. i've been asking some specific questions about what they liked about the books, or grouping them in pairs - finding overlap between a and b title, or a and c title, etc, explaining the connections i am making and letting them know it is totally okay if they disagree with the connections i am seeing, and we can have a conversation that will whittle down their interests into those delightful appeal factors.

(karenbrissette) #6

also, as an example, one person said:

I like books whose timelines are not strictly linear, that might feature illustrations (not graphic novels), whose stories retell classics, or that feature strong female characters.

so i responded with:

this is a really fun request! were you looking for titles that contain all the above criteria, or would you want some suggestions that are nonlinear, some that have ephemera within the text, etc. ?

and she posted back:

Suggestions for each criteria, not titles that fulfill all criteria! :blush:

which was a relief, because finding multiple suggestions that contained ALL of those interests would have been tricky and i ended up giving her three suggestions for each of the four criteria, and indicated instances where more than one of her interests was being met within those matches. so you don't have to be super-rigorous with including everything, as long as you explain what you're doing and why you are making the matches, and letting them know they can modify or clarify the request at any time.

(Jennifer D.) #7

For everyone helping as an RA:

On average, how many books do you recommend for each request your work on?

(Kate Minckler) #8

For me, it depends how into the conversation the person gets, and how much information they give me when I ask follow-up questions. I think around 4 is my average, but I'd be intrigued to know how many other RAs are suggesting!

(karenbrissette) #9

i've been doing three per, with explanations about why the title was chosen, and then i always ask them to let me know if they have read any of those already, or if they don't look interesting to them in any way and offer to supply alternate suggestions if they want. some of them have already been saying "thanks, looks good!" after i've only typed the first one through, and i'm like - but... but - i have MORE!!

(Gaele Hi) #10

It really, for me, depends on the request. I had one person who had 8 or 9 titles in her "like this" I looked at the common themes of them all (time travel / adventure / power grabs ) and recommended 3 titles (all were first in series. I've yet to have anyone actually respond but one person - who tweeted it. so.....

(Gaele Hi) #11

Oh- I've got one. Reader provided The Age of Em - which is non-fic dealing with computerization of society at every level. But he wanted the same in fiction. And non-put-downable fiction at that.

Did not answer follow up questions - so I went with stand-by faves that are also well-reviewed and popular in the 'machines run the world' futuristic predictive. I have friends who are always saying - pick a read for me - and getting them to clarify and quantify what they want without some serious back and forth to drill down makes it more difficult. And that's the only issue I'm having - a lack of interplay to get down to something that helps a good recommendation

(SERIESous Book Reviews) #12

I usually start with 2-3. Most of the time, they find something they like but it does depend on how much information I get.

If one or more of those books I suggest is one that have read previously, I suggest a couple based on their reaction to that pick.

But most people have been ok with the 2-3 I've suggested and that's it!

(Janine Tabor) #13

The Hobbit brings in a Fantasy quest element. Might lean towards that genre. Some suggestions: Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey, Demoniac Dance by Jaq D. Hawkins, Godstalk by P.C. Hodgell.

(Janine Tabor) #14

Time travel is one of my own favorite genres. Did you find good matches for this one?

(Jennifer D.) #15

Hi everyone!! How are you all doing??

I have a general question:

Have you accepted any broadly vague requests? If so, how do you handle them when message requesting more info goes unanswered?

I have two requests for which I am waiting to hear back from users. Both are for nonfiction, and that's all that was stated. I contacted each person letting them know I was keen to work on their request, though nonfiction is a broad category so any additional preferences within the genre would be appreciated, like subject areas or previous works they have read and loved. So far, I haven't heard back from either (it's been a couple of days).

I am curious about how you would move forward with this type of request? (Or if you have worked on a vague request like this previously, what you did if the user(s) weren't responding to replies.)

Thanks!! :slight_smile:

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #16

What popped into my head on seeing this was Eowyn Ivey's To the Bright Edge of the World. This is a wonderful book with illustrations (maps, illustrations, photographs) and is written using journal entries, diary entries, newspaper accounts - features a great female character too!

(karenbrissette) #17

oh, i haven't read that one, so i didn't know that was the structure - thank you! i loved her first book very much, and have wanted to get the new one. this makes me want it more!

(karenbrissette) #18

that's happened to me with a few of them - some people have subsequently gotten back to me with more information, but a few have not. i pushed the /sendreminder once, but i didn't feel good about forcing it, so i didn't send a second reminder if they never responded to the first one. it'll happen - some people aren't comfortable with the process or are unwilling to participate if it requires effort. don't take it personally!

(Jennifer D.) #19

Thanks, @karenbrissette.

i'm not taking it personally, at all. I just wasn't sure how much time to allow, or whether to push more than once. I had also had the thought that some people just won't be into extending extra effort for the process, so may never hear back. I've definitely kept things very friendly and open - with hope pressure-free for these users - so perhaps they will reply at some point... or not. I appreciate your input - I figured other people must have had vague requests like this too, so was curious about how they were being handled by others. :smiley:

(BookBroad) #20

I try to do at least three. If they have given me more to work with, I can definitely give them more suggestions.