Dispatches From Carbon-Based Life Forms

The Illinois Library Association publishes a bi-monthly publication called The ILA Reporter to act as a “forum for those who are improving and reinventing Illinois libraries.” The 16-page Reporter is laid out in a classic magazine style, with attractive layouts for each story, appropriate photos interspersed throughout, and accessibly-written articles for by and for current information professionals.

I really enjoy how this publication’s authors go out of their way to write about their subjects in clear and conversational tones. Unlike many academic or textbook writers, every author in The Reporter writes like a human being talks. Take, for example, this snippet from “From Serials to Serial: Integrated Readers’ Advisory,”:

“When a patron comes to you and asks for a suggestion for something good to read, how do you respond? Chances are, you ask them what they’ve read and enjoyed lately, then follow up by asking what they liked about that book.” (Donohue, 10)

Now, compare that with some text about the exact same process, taken from the 3rd edition of Reference and Information Services by Kay Cassell and Uma Hiremath:

“Leaders in the field of readers’ advisory service would say that, while the key to good reference service is the reference interview, the key to good readers’ advisory service is the readers’ advisory conversation. Joyce Saricks framed the standard conversational opener when a readers wants help finding pleasure reading. She says, ‘Tell me about a book you have enjoyed.’ This is the beginning of a conversation that the skillful readers’ advisor will steer, in order to discern the ‘appeal factors’ the reader likes.” (Cassell & Hiremath, 289)

The Reference and Information Services textbook writers not only say less than The Reporter’s writer in twice the space, but they do so in a way that would barely pass The Turing Test. The broad nature of “Tell me about a book you have enjoyed,” would make anyone panic and accept any suggestion, while the lack of spoken contractions would make a patron feel ill-at-ease, to say the least.

This isn’t to say that the textbook is bad by any means. Textbooks need a certain, authoritative tone when discussing ideas and histories in order for us to take them seriously, while magazines have the advantage of being more disposable. But, The Reader’s tone is a nice reminder that my future interactions at a reference desk will be peppered with humanity and a lighter tone.

Another piece in The Reporter, “Reading, Writing, and Reflecting on War” by Elizabeth Gross, exams the beginnings of war literature and how the genre changes as society’s view on war changes. Gross’s point about how war literature has moved beyond basic glorification to show what battles do to people’s psyches and how landscapes are devastated. This short, two-page article provides a broad, readable history of the genre and, of course, provides some fantastic references for those interested in further study.

All in all, The Reporter is an accessible resource for future and current librarians who are looking for advice, resources, or just reminders as to how many genres are truly out there to draw on. It’s a nice little reminder that future work spaces will be filled with interesting people who talk like people, and are eager to help you on your own level.


Cassell, Kay Ann & Hiremath, Uma. Reference and Information Services, 3rd ed. Neal-Schuman, 2013: p. 289

Donohue, Nanette. “From Serials to Serial: Integrated Readers’ Advisory.” The Illinois Library Association Reporter. Aug, 2015.

Gross, Elizabeth. “Reading, Writing, and Reflecting on War.” The Illinois Library Association Reporter. Aug, 2015.