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Missed Opportunities

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted October 07, 2014 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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On a recent flight, I chatted with my seatmate, and she asked the usual 'what do you do' question. I told her that I helped librarians answer the "What’s a good book to read?" question. She shared with me that she goes to her local library two or three times a month and that she has never thought to ask a staff member for assistance in finding a book to read.  How many of you have had similar experiences?  I wish I could say that my conversation with my fellow traveler was atypical, but based on my experience it is very typical.  It is in fact rare for me to have someone talk about how we helped them find new books.  According to the Pew Trust, 73% of the readers who have used their library in the past year say that they browse the stacks to find books to read.  How many of these readers know that we want to help them find more of what they are looking for?  How can we let them know?

There are simple opportunities that we should not miss. For example, the Telluride Public Library in Colorado has an easy, inexpensive solution.  They have signs throughout their stacks letting browsers know that their staff is eager to help them find their next great read.  Just ask at the desk.

Another opportunity is when readers approach the desk and ask if the library owns a particular book.  Frequently, this is a popular, new title that the library owns but which already has a myriad of holds on it.  One secret shopper study conducted by a major urban library found that when their staff members were asked this question, they offered to place it on hold 95% of the time.  But when it came to suggesting another author or title, 70% of the time, staff did NOT offer an alternative. That’s a missed opportunity.

Simple, daily interactions like these teach our users what they can expect of us and what business we are in.  The majority of library users think we are in the business of telling them whether or not we own a title they have already learned about from someone else.  But each of these requests also represents an opportunity to grow the question into a readers’ advisory one.  Why aren’t 73% of the readers in our stacks asking us to help them find their next book?  It might be because the message we have conveyed might not be the one we intend or want to send.