June 14, 2016

Get all your staff involved in doing readers’ advisory

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.

RAx: The doctor is in

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.

Typecast for success

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.

Type 1
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.

  • Use these folks to reach as many readers as possible -- make them the editors of your library’s book-oriented e-newsletters. With ready-to-go newsletters from NextReads, each newsletter arrives finished and ready to send out to patrons so these valuable staff members can save even more time. Or, they can create and curate their own custom newsletters in LibraryAware.
  • Get social. Type 1s can utilize their knowledge and charisma to engage with readers both local and far away on social media. Participate in conversations on Twitter with hashtags like #AskALibrarian, where followers ask for and give book recommendations, and #TheresADeweyForThat.

Type 2
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.

  • Help Type 2s fill in their knowledge gaps with tools like cheat sheets, search strategies, bookmarks, and other ready-to-hand-out materials. And you’re in luck, because we’ve got plenty ready for you to download and print! (Psst: if you have LibraryAware, there are hundreds of these ready-to-print items available, and we’re adding more every day.)
  • Direct them to the Learn section of the NoveList Idea Center whenever they have a spare moment -- we’ve compiled our best resources to help build skills with readers’ advisory and using NoveList.

Type 3
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.

  • The bookmarks and other materials mentioned for Type 2s? Type 3s are the perfect people to be creating those items -- they can put their book knowledge to good use and use it to help match readers with books without having lots of face-to-face interaction. And for genres or reader needs that happen to fall outside their realm of knowledge, Recommended Reads lists in NoveList are the perfect place to start.
Type 4
It takes all types to maintain a library, and these staff members, who often readily self-identify as having both a lower level of book knowledge and RA experience, may not necessarily be stationed at the reference or information desks, but they are bound to encounter readers while working at the library -- after all, to most readers, anyone who works at the library is a librarian.
  • For these staff members to not only be successful but also feel successful, it’s helpful to have clear, easy-to-follow guidelines for responding to reader requests and interactions. For example, staff can be expected to show the recommendations for read-alikes from NoveList Select when a patron places a book on hold, offer patrons to subscribe to a NextReads newsletter in their preferred genres, or hand out any suitable bookmarks or lists.
  • While Type 4s may not have extensive genre knowledge, they're bound to have a favorite genre or author they know well. This makes them a great candidate for creating book displays and designing attractive signage when it's a topic they have some knowledge of. Check out this list of RA ideas almost anyone can do!

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



Cassi Hall is the Communications Specialist at NoveList.

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