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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more RA Showcase
A Path to Relieving Readers’-Advisory Anxiety
Barry Trott, of the Williamsburg Regional Library, kicked off the day, setting the tone by advising us not to become complacent with what we know, as the cornerstone of the library is its approach to RA. When the reference interview succeeds, and our application of RA tools proves fluid, a patron is handed a book that we hope will leave a lasting impression. RA plays a major role in the changing fabric of our community—to fulfill our mission, we must step up to the plate and be armed with the necessary tools to meet the needs of our patrons.
Feeling empowered and determined to collect a long list of print, online, and social-networking tools, I next attended “How to Recommend Books You Haven’t Read.” The facilitator asked us to recommend sites we especially like and their distinctive characteristics. One of my favorites was Audiofilemagazine.com. Often patrons note their favorite narrators, and this site provides quick lists by reader.
By the end of this session, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed—my RA angst was rising but was soon relieved in the next session, “Social Media and RA.” Here we dealt with the nuts and bolts of social-networking and media sites. We were warned to be judicious in our selections and usage, as there is a lot out there! Twitter, Instagram, and your library’s web page were all good takeaways for me.
Another Excellent Unconference
I had attended the original unconference two years ago and was looking forward to this one—it did not disappoint! This program offers the chance for librarians to get together and discuss ways and tools for providing readers’ advisory and how to get books into readers’ hands.
My first session was “How to Recommend Books You Haven’t Read.” Attendees shared what tools and tricks they used to help them suggest books to patrons. I tend to rely on reading reviews as well as asking patrons about the books they are returning to the library. I do not read a lot of nonfiction so that is always a tough one for me to help with. It was interesting to hear how others have used different tools, and I have already bookmarked several of those tools on the service-desk computers.
Next I attended the session on “Displays and Merchandising.” I was interested to hear that some libraries have found that placing books flat on display tables helps them move. People may be reluctant to “mess up” a pretty display. Everyone was in agreement that a variety of media should be used in displays, a technique we have found to be helpful. Another great tip was to use empty shelf space to showcase a book or books. Bringing items from the top and bottom shelf to eye level can help get older titles moving. I hope to try this out if I can actually find any empty shelf space!
The lunch program featured an interview with the wonderfully funny Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife (2015). She had us all laughing out loud, and I immediately put a hold on the book for myself. My last session was “How to Measure Readers’ Advisory.” We can suggest all the books we want, make incredible displays, and promote materials as much as possible, but how do we know that we are reaching our patrons? Some of the suggestions here were to monitor what materials from displays are being checked out, count the number of advisory questions we get, and track circulation of items once they are showcased in newsletters.
The second RAUNCON was an informative and enlightening experience for me. I had a chance to connect with friends and colleagues, to booktalk, and to share ideas with the intent of constantly improving the services we provide to our patrons. I think we all left recharged and ready to try out some new ideas. —Jennifer Cook, Cheshire Public Library
RA: Not Just for Public Libraries
Even though we are school librarians, we were really intrigued by the public library notion of “Loan a Librarian,” which was discussed during the outreach session. This program involves a public librarian volunteering to go to a patron’s home to be an onsite book-club consultant or advisor. We wondered if this was something we could offer as a school-auction item where parents could bid on us, and we could lend our expertise to their book club or help them set up a book club for their child. We were also captivated by the idea, suggested during the social-media session, of a library Instagram account featuring staff picks. We immediately thought about our diverse bunch of faculty readers who are always trading book recommendations around the lunch table. What if we captured those recommendations on Instagram, with faculty members holding up copies of their latest favorites to share with the whole community? We also plan to revive our BookFace program and get the seventh-graders to make selfies in which they are disguised as their favorite book covers, which we could also feature on a library Instagram account.
Though we were disappointed that we couldn’t find more folks who podcasted booktalks, which was a topic we were hoping to explore, we did get lots of enthusiastic feedback from new friends who said they would definitely listen to a program if we were to offer it. All in all, a satisfying day of solid ideas and advice! —Jennifer Hubert Swan and Clair Segal, Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School
Room for Both High-Touch and Passive RA
I am a wine philistine. When I walk into a wine store, I have a price point, a vague flavor profile, and not much else. I rarely ask for help because I know I’m disappointing the very passionate sellers with my tendency to select based on label design. In other words, I am actively avoiding the kind of help I seek to provide at my library. At least I know I can ask for help in making a selection—most library patrons are surprised to learn that we offer readers’ advisory.
Attendees at RAUNCON had both outreach success stories and struggles. Just as with reference, librarians can be too enthusiastic and scare off people who just want a casual recommendation, not an entire annotated bibliography of books we think they’ll love. Many people reported that their form-based RA has led to a very small number of very happy patrons. The people willing to actively discuss their reading interests in writing are most likely to be akin to some library staff—those who sleep next to a stack of books but still want more ideas about what to read next. Those deep relationships are worth cultivating, but RA needs to reach people where they are—so outreach to the more casual reader can (and perhaps should) be more low-key.
Passive (or “asynchronous,” as keynote speaker Barry Trott prefers) RA reaches a wider group of readers. Displays and read-alike flyers are perennial favorites, but as libraries enhance their RA services, they get more specific. Recommended reads paired with less-popular titles or listed by staff-member name can help patrons find their RA match at the library. Bookmarks with recommendations from a staff member who liked the book boosted circulation at one library, while another library found that simply putting the month and year the book was acquired on the spine label allowed patrons to seek out newish books. “Staff Favorites” stickers also helped patrons find books in the stacks.
RA is about building relationships, and many attendees had stories of being the “go-to” person for a patron or of spending hours working on form-based RA for grateful readers who spend six months reading through a new favorite author’s entire catalog. For those of us developing services, these kinds of high-touch success stories can feel like the ultimate goal and a superior form of RA. Although I plan to try out several of the asynchronous RA ideas, I’m thinking more about avoiding hierarchical thinking about RA services. I’m happy with $12 Malbecs with pretty labels, and many readers prefer a “Staff Favorites” sticker to a book sommelier. —Kate Sheehan, C. H. Booth Library
A Wealth of Examples
“Can you find me a great book?” is a question that causes many librarians to break into an anxious sweat. I often feel tremendous pressure to find a reader that perfect book. I relish the moments when I succeed in my quest, but I sometimes worry that this hunt for “the one” can miss bigger ideas and opportunities. RAUNCON gave me the chance to explore some of those bigger ideas and the small things we can do to delight our readers in unique ways.
Keynote speaker Barry Trott calmed my anxiety with the refreshing reminder that, at its core, RA “is about creating a community of readers.” The unconference revealed many libraries that are working hard to create these reading communities that Trott emphasized, and some of the most creative examples could be found during the morning session, “Outreach and Embedded RA.” My personal favorite was a library in a coastal community that had the opportunity to do a little RA where people often do a lot of reading: at the beach! Armed with books and a mobile-circulation setup, they were able to connect some of the local sunbathers with a good read.
I’ve always loved the idea of taking books to the people, especially people who can’t or don’t walk through the library’s doors. In many communities, e-books and the ubiquity of e-reading devices can make this kind of outreach very accessible. But there are still many geographically isolated readers in our communities who may not have devices, and it is important that we find ways to connect with and delight them, too. Books by mail and other homebound programs were clearly a priority for many of the libraries represented during that session.
Trott also emphasized the importance of listening to people describe not only what they like to read but how they talk about books. An exciting trend that emerged throughout the conference was the idea that genre is no longer king when it comes to describing books. Appeal factors like pacing, voice, and framing are important to consider in an era where genre-blended fiction is becoming increasingly popular. As a reader who loves to connect with others over these kinds of literary devices, this is an exciting development for me!
“Display and Merchandising” and “RA on Library Websites” had some clever ideas for introducing readers to stories that break the genre mold. I am especially taken with the visual promotion of titles as a modern riff on the traditional diorama (without the box!), known as “book bentos.” Also referred to as “book styling,” these are digital photographs of books with beautiful objects placed around them to reveal the unique character of that title. This is an idea I would love to try myself and enlist some of my many well-read and talented coworkers to try as well.
Although many of the excellent ideas shared at the unconference were not recent inventions, the level of creativity with which many libraries are resurrecting them is inspiring. I am excited to see how libraries utilize these very accessible examples of RA, not only to delight their readers by helping them find that perfect book but also to expand their reading communities. —Megan Fenton, Greenburgh Public Library
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