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Readers’ Advisory: Front and Center

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted April 16, 2012 in Readers' Advisory News

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In my role at NoveList, I attend many library conferences. Unfortunately, my responsibilities rarely allow me to attend any conference programs, and this was certainly the case at last month's PLA conference in Philadelphia. PLA has always been a favorite conference and I was really saddened by the fact that I was unable to attend the "Leaders as Readers: What Happens When Directors Choose Reading as a Core Initiative" session. Victoria Caplinger from NoveList did make it to this session and sent me her notes. Going by her notes, I really missed an excellent program, so, in case you missed it too, here are a few highlights.

Session speakers included Sari Feldman, Executive Director, Cuyahoga County Public Library (OH), Craig Buthod, Director, Louisville Free Public Library (KY); Bill Ptacek, Director, King County Library System (WA); and A. Issac Pulver, Director, Sarasota Springs Public Library (NY).

Sari introduced the session by re-emphasizing that books are the library's brand (Thank you, OCLC!). In addition to sharing a wide range of statistics that reinforce the value of reading, she also shared an article about the books on the shelves of some prominent CEOs. Follow the link to see if you are as surprised as I was about what these business leaders are reading.

Next, Craig Buthod talked about how budget cuts had a clarifying effect on identifying and organizing priorities. After Louisville reduced staff from 450 to 295, they chose to focus on author events, bookmobile service and outreach to target populations, especially pre-K students and adult literacy, as a means of connecting with their users.

In King County where 25% of circulation occurs through items placed on hold, Bill Ptacek's library is also focusing on early literacy efforts but also on programs like "Guys Read" and a service that has teenaged patrons working with Teen Librarians, who then work with younger boys in a reading initiative.

Ike Pulver shared how he became interested in readers' advisory in the first place. At Queensboro Public Library he started work in the literature/languages department. When he was put in charge of Romance, he thought he would be working with Italian, French, and Spanish titles. Instead he found himself working with Nora Roberts fans. To learn more about both the literature and its readers, he spoke with readers about what they liked (shades of Jan Radway!). The resulting epiphany shaped the rest of his career.

These are just some of the highlights from a program that I know many would have liked to attend. If any of you attended this session and have additional thoughts and comments, send them my way.

During my time at NoveList, I have often been asked how to get management buy-in for RA. What this program and its speakers show is what can happen at libraries where the directors are readers: what happens is that instead of RA being behind the scenes -- it is front and center.