Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

Secret Shopper Assignment and Discussion

So, so, so, I finally got around to doing my Secret Shopper assignment for Adult Readers Advisory. This was a long time coming because (A) I am such a procrastinator and (B) I dread asking for help, directions, etc. I am a timid, stubborn little fool, what can I say?

I went to the library yesterday to return a big stack of books, so I figured it was time to such it up and complete this assignment. I walked upstairs, a stack of Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters books under my arm, and marched over to the reference desk to ask my question. The two ladies who were on duty were both in the office, but one of them came out to help me after I had stood there for a moment.

I decided to make it a bit easy on the poor, unsuspecting worker and, holding up the Amelia Peabody book that was on top of my stack,  asked her if she could help me find some authors similar to Elizabeth Peters, as I had discovered her books of late and really enjoyed them. She countered by asking if I knew that Peters wrote Gothic mysteries/suspense under another name, Barbara Michaels. I fibbed and told her that I didn’t (dear readers, I felt like such a phony!). I honestly thought that was where the interview was going to end, but she surprised me by making a comment about knowing of an author who had an archeologist character and then set out to search for it on the computer. After a few moments of typing and mumbling incoherently, she told me that she knew of the book’s name, but not the author’s name and the library didn’t have the title, so she was out of luck.

More typing and mumbling ensued, after which she mentioned that there was another Peters, an Ellis Peters, who also wrote mysteries. I felt so bad for her when I showed her the Ellis Peters titles in my stack of books, as I could see she was grasping at straws trying to find something for me. She once again went back to typing, and after what well could have been the longest, most awkward pause in history, she announced to me that she just wasn’t having any luck finding anything. I suppose I could have helped her out by providing her with more information about what I liked about Elizabeth Peters’ writing, but I honestly didn’t want to prolong this painful experience (both for her and for me). I thanked her for her assistance and told her I would definitely check out the Barbara Michaels books.

This was a very unsatisfying experience, both for me and probably for the lady who was trying to help me (I’ve been in her shoes at my job and I know it’s frustrating to not be able to help someone find the information that they are looking for). I don’t know for certain if she had an MLS degree or not, but that shouldn’t matter, as it is the library’s responsibility to adequately train their employees to provide exemplory service to their patrons, especially if they are reference desk workers. I know for a fact that this library has a subscription to NoveList and that Elizabeth Peters has a pretty extensive author read-alikes page, but that isn’t helpful to library employees if they are unaware of its existence and have not been trained in how to use it.

I’m not in any way trying to knock the lady who was helping me – I was actually quite impressed with her knowledge of the mystery genre – but her job could have been made so much easier if she had known about readers advisory tools and how to ask the proper questions. At no point during the reference interview did she ask me what it was I liked about Elizabeth Peters’ writing or if I would actually like another mystery book about an archeololgist. I felt badly that she had to rely upon her own knowledge in this situation, which was failing her, instead of the training her place of employment owed her. I have vowed to myself that in the future if I work at a library that cannot afford to employee people with degrees in library science at the reference desk, then I will take it upon myself to train them how to provide proper readers advisory services. We’ll see how well that goes over.

What really kills me is that I just recently sent this library a cozy mystery reading list which featured Elizabeth Peters series in several places. It would have been the perfect tool to use in this instance, but either the whole reference staff hadn’t been made aware of its existence, they hadn’t yet printed it out, or they scrapped it and decided it wouldn’t be of use to them. I don’t know which it was, but I would have been perfectly satisfied if she had whipped it out, showed me some books that had similar themes, and asked me if any of them sounded interesting. That is, after all, why I slaved over my computer for so many hours creating it.

I’m just glad I didn’t ask the poor lady the question that first popped into my mind: can you help me find historical fiction books about the Scottish Highlands that don’t feature a half naked man on the cover. I was on Fiction Connection all afternoon trying to figure that one out and I didn’t have any luck and she probably wouldn’t have either. I have now pretty much accepted that Diana Gabaldon 2.0 does not exist and that Jamie and Claire will forever go down in my reading history as my favorite literary couple. If anyone, of course, can provide evidence contrary to this assumption, I will, as always, be most appreciative.

Also, for those of you who are interested, these are the author read alikes that NoveList provided for Elizabeth Peters:

For a heroine who fits right in with those of Elizabeth Peters, try Sharyn McCrumb‘s Elizabeth MacPherson Mystery series. Elizabeth is another spunky heroine, intelligent but quirky. She’s a forensic anthropologist, and her studies lead her to exotic locales, where she confronts dangers (including centuries-old Anthrax spores) and romance. The action may be less swashbuckling, but these are certainly amusing reading. Sick of Shadows is the first.

Readers who enjoy the sometimes over-the-top adventure elements of the Egyptian series might enjoy H. Rider Haggard, but they may prefer more contemporary versions of heroines in wilderness adventure stories, such as those by Catherine Lanigan (The Legend Makers) or under her pen name Joan Wilder (Romancing the Stone, with its Indiana Jones-type heroine in the jungles of South America).

Husband and wife detective teams may also appeal to Peters’ fans. Try the classic The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, with the incomparable banter between sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, or the more contemporary series by Carolyn Hart, featuring bookstore owner Annie Laurance and husband Max Darling. Death on Demand is the first.

If the romantic interests and entanglements form a large part of the appeal for readers, send them to Jayne Ann Krentz for contemporary settings and her alter-ego Amanda Quick for historicals. Although neither employs series characters, both share Peters’ madcap humor; her pleasure in romantic romps; her intelligent, independent heroines; her often brooding heroes; convoluted, detail-rich plots; and stories with element of Mystery, Suspense, and Adventure. Krentz’s Smoke in Mirrors and Quick’s Mistress make good starting points. These are not, however, for readers who do not enjoy racy romances with explicit sex.*

*Courtesy of NoveList.

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One comment on “Secret Shopper Assignment and Discussion

  1. Andrea
    May 4, 2010

    Well done! I can’t wait for you to get a library position so that you can connect with readers and encourage a love of RA in your co-workers.

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2010 by in Reader's Advisory and tagged , , , , .
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