January 5, 2018

Steal this idea: Express Book Bags

What it is:  3 books, in a bag, hand-picked and already checked out to the patron.

Why our patrons love it: Adults are busy! Whether you’re running errands, corralling toddlers, or stopping by on your lunch break, we want to make it as easy as possible to get books.

Like many other library systems, Wake County Public Libraries has for years offered customized reading lists. In 2015, we decided to take those reading lists a step further. With Express Book Bags, we created a concierge-style service in which our librarians select 3 books, check them out in advance, and have them ready to go in a brown paper bag on a day of the patron’s choosing. No need to check out -- just pick it up and go. Hand picked, ready quick!

To get an Express Book Bag, a patron fills out a short form -- either online or in person -- providing information about favorite genres, books, authors, TV shows, or movies. We promise to have a bag ready for pickup within two business days. Since this kind of readers’ advisory is quick and limited by what is available in the library at any given time, our goal is that at least one of the three books is appealing to the patron. Feedback shows that patrons usually find more than one of the three books appealing, and if it turns out they have already read one, that means we are on the right track!

Originally, Express Book Bags were marketed specifically to parents and caregivers at story time. Adult services librarians would make an appearance at the morning story times with a cart of titles on display, flyers for the service, and paper request forms. We know story time parents are busy (and have a hard enough time wrangling their kids after the fun stories, songs, and bubbles!), so we wanted to create a super easy way for them to get books in hand. As librarians, we know that the best way to get your children to read is to model that behavior at home. When parents read, kids read!  Having successfully reached story time parents, we thought this service would appeal to a wider audience, which is why we decided to expand the service in January 2017.

Now, Express Book Bags are available to all adults, not just those at story time. Additionally, we’ve added a subscription component, where patrons can set up a recurring pick up time. Want a new bag every two weeks? We can do that! This convenient, personalized service has garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback. The most common comments are: “It’s like getting a gift, just for me!” 

When we launched Express Book Bags in fall of 2015, we had high hopes that this unique service would take off -- and it has! Patrons have been so happy with this service they told their friends, and eventually the word spread to a writer at the Raleigh News & Observer, who wrote an article highlighting the service that was picked up by the news wire service and published as far away as Montana. Publicity and word of mouth have made Express Book Bags a true success, with over 1,200 bags picked up since starting the service!

Want more great readers' advisory ideas? NoveList's newsletters offer readers' advisory inspiration, training tips, and keep you up-to-date about reading trends.

Joy Jones is Adult Services Manager at the West Regional Library in Cary, North Carolina.

Amy Funderburk is the Adult Services Manager at the Eva Perry Regional Library in Apex, North Carolina.


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