June 14, 2016
What’s the most valuable asset of your library? Your collection? Your programming? Your readers’ advisory services?
Not to pander to our audience or anything, but we think the most valuable asset of any library is you, the staff that keeps everything moving and shaking. Staff are the frontline resource for keeping a library successful and engaged in their communities and their collective knowledge and expertise help make the library the wonderful place that it is.
But when readers walk into the library looking for a great book to read it's likely that they'll consult the nearest staff member. Chances are that this staff member will know exactly where to direct them but what if this same staff member doesn't feel comfortable making book recommendations? And, there are many different roles to fill in the library; what if this staff member approached by a patron doesn't have a readers' advisory background? Data bears this out: according to a 2013 survey conducted by Library Journal, only 6% of public libraries have a dedicated readers’ advisory staff -- surprising in and of itself considering the budget constraints many libraries face these days.
Not to mention that not all staff -- even ones with some RA experience -- will have the same levels of book knowledge AND the comfort level to readily share this information. So how can you best empower all staff when a reader walks up to the desk asking that proverbial question “What’s a good book to read?”
We have some ideas.
Developed to help public libraries help readers, our RAx self-assessment guide is a fantastic starting point for any library looking for involve all of their staff in their readers’ advisory services. It’s a short, downloadable booklet full of resources and exercises to help you assess your current state of services for readers, and figure out how to take it to the next level. Use it to evaluate your readers, your staff, and your services.
Using a concrete format, this guide will help you discover the strengths and comfort levels of your staff with suggestions for how to capitalize on those strengths. Have a "Type 3" staff member with extensive book knowledge, but who's more on the quiet side and not so comfortable in high-pressure service situations? This person makes an ideal candidate for creating fabulous book displays, bookmarks, book lists, and other printed materials. What about your "Type 2" reference librarian who has less confidence in his/her book knowledge but who welcomes readers enthusiastically and engages in conversations with them? She may need some help maximizing the connection between her existing reference skills and readers’ advisory -- and is a perfect target for cheats sheets and ready-to-go printed materials.
So on your next staff training day, print out the RAx guide and start evaluating! You may also want to view a recording of one of our recent webcasts: Readers’ advisory for everyone and see the strategies and tricks other libraries have used to empower all their staff to help all kinds of readers.
Once you’ve evaluated your staff with the RAx guide and have identified everyone’s Type, give them tools for success. We’ve compiled some resources and ideas below for each Type.
These are the staff members with extensive book knowledge who love talking books with as many people as possible. They're at making connections with readers.
These friendly, approachable staff members are very comfortable having conversations with readers, but may not be as secure when speaking specifically about genres, authors, or book trends they aren’t familiar with.
Typically identifying as introverts, these staff have extensive book knowledge but may not be as comfortable giving in-person RA. Help them leverage their knowledge in ways that don’t force face-to-face interactions.
Making the most out of the valuable resource that is your staff is crucial to a library’s success and ability to help the readers of their community. What creative methods have you used to get all your staff involved in readers’ advisory at your library? We’d love to hear about it