Stop Asking TikTok for Book Recommendations and Start Asking a Librarian

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Not all book recommendation sources are equal. Years ago, I saw a tweet from a popular YA author asking his followers for their favorite little-known books. The responses were filled with books like The Hunger Games and Catcher in the Rye: some of the most read and recognized books of all time. I was so frustrated by it that I started my own series on Book Riot: The Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of.

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten irritated at book recommendations on social media. Someone will ask for recommendations for a very particular kind of book and receive replies recommending books that have no relevance to the original request. These can be shockingly bad recommendations, like suggesting that someone intimidated by fantasy novels pick up a long-winded and dense series as their first foray into the genre. TikTok, Reddit, X/Twitter, and other social media are notorious for recommending the same books over and over again, regardless of whether they’re relevant to the request.

The truth is: book recommendations are equal part art and science, and not everyone is good at them. The best recs require a near encyclopedic knowledge of books across genres and the correlations between them (readers of x author tend to also read y and z authors) as well as the skill of selling you on a story in just a few sentences.

Most people get their book recommendations from friends and family, and many authors have become bestsellers thanks to BookTok reviews, but those are not the best sources for recs. As a former bookseller, I can even admit that booksellers are pretty hit or miss when it comes to recommendations: many only read in a narrow genre, not all of them have the skill to sell you on a story convincingly, and — quelle horreur! — sometimes they’re just trying to move stock they ordered too much of.

The best source of book recommendations is probably one you’re not using. These people have been trained in the art of the book recommendation. They work with books every day and have a large mental catalog of them. They have the finely-honed search skills and specialized databases to find precisely the obscure book you’re looking for. Those people — drumroll please — are librarians.

In most libraries, librarians are required to have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Studies, and they’re trained on Reader’s Advisory — aka, book recommendations. These people literally have completed courses on giving book recommendations, plus they have a ton of experience giving recs! There is no more reliable source of a good recommendation.

That’s why task #9 of the 2024 Read Harder Challenge is “Read a book recommended by a librarian.”

The most straightforward way — and arguably the best way — to do this is to march into your nearest library and ask the person behind the information desk for a recommendation, but it’s not the only way. Here are some other strategies to complete this task.

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