Pathfinder Michelle Clark: 5forU Young Adult Book Recommender!

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are a part of interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

Librarian Michelle Clark is passionate about her library work with teenagers.  Formerly a lead at Redwood City Public Library’s teen center and a tutor in a ProjectREADs program, Michelle brings a breadth of knowledge and experience about young adults to the San José Public Library.

Her work has been especially rewarding over the years because of her appreciation for teens’ perceptions of the world and their zany senses of humor.  She feels that the right approach is key to developing the teen customer base.  Michelle is skilled at reaching teens through respectful conversations, which provide information about their needs and wants.  Teens want to be heard and want a place to belong.  Michelle provides a safe place and voice for them in the library.

Reaching teens virtually during this global pandemic has been a significant challenge.  Building trust with teens requires a face to face interaction that is mostly improbable these days. Like any good problem solver, Michelle looked for outlets in which to continue her important work with teens.

Michelle successfully found a new way of engaging with teens remotely: providing book recommendations through SJPL’s 5forU service!

She joined a remarkable group of librarians who each bring their own formidable expertise: Collections and Technical Services Manager Sharon Fung, Dana Lema, Edith Sutterlin, Jeana Clampitt, Marsha Malcolm, Rebekah Gonzalez, Rosalinda Savercool, and Sarah Kishler.  The 5forU librarians provide expert advice on what books best fit their customers' needs.  Each librarian, like Michelle, is passionate about books and about readers' advisory.

What is 5forU?

Sharon Fung began 5forU after asking permission from Seattle Public Library to borrow their "Your Next Five" program.  After receiving approval, Sharon began the program on October 19, 2013.  The program is especially useful now, because of the pandemic.

5forU allows customers, just like you and me, to share information about the books and materials that they have enjoyed with a group of dedicated librarians in return for a personalized list of book recommendations.  Each librarian who serves in 5forU has a wealth of knowledge and experience just like Michelle.

Think of it as the original “since you liked this, you may like this” algorithm popular with many online retailers.

A friendly librarian, like Michelle, from the 5forU team will be able to recommend five titles that match your request.

5forU: The Best Kind of Reader’s Advisory!

During the pandemic, people have turned to books as a way to relieve the pressures from the sudden changes in their personal lives.  Books have always been a source of comfort for those who wish to take a break from their daily stressors (including screens). Interpersonal interaction between customer and respectful librarians can make the world of difference to someone who feels isolated by the pandemic.  Now, that same source of comfort is needed even more in the wake of an illness that cares little for public health or economic well-being.

As Michelle says, “just as in “The Beforetimes” (before the pandemic,) folks are looking for a good book recommendation. 5forU asks customers what kind of books they're looking for, what books they've enjoyed in the past (or didn't enjoy), in order to get a bespoke list of book recommendations. Sometimes we'll even email back and forth with the customer to iron out details so that the list of recommendations really does match their reading style and desires. 5forU provides that missing quintessential librarian interaction: an online version of that casual conversation you previously had with the librarian at the branch.”

Parents also greatly appreciate 5forU for:

  • helping them to find more books on the subjects their child loves to read about
  • introducing their children to new kinds of stories or to books that challenge their reading ability

Michelle’s most recent memorable 5forU interaction occurred when a teen customer returned materials.  The teen commented that they “love the 5forU service” and have been greatly pleased with past recommendations.

The Specifics

Our 5forU form asks a series of simple questions to help lay the groundwork for one of our team to respond with a list of recommendations.  Here is a sample of these questions:

  • Do you prefer fiction, non-fiction or both?
  • What genres do you prefer?
  • Do you have any authors or titles that have made an impact on you?

Recall the last conversation you had with a librarian; the questions on the form are similar to the ones we would ask you if we were standing face-to-face.

The more you share and information you provide, the better we can provide you with a list of books you would really enjoy. Your answers will most certainly help us find the ideal kinds of books that you will enjoy.