Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Reference Desk Needs a Makeover for Readers' Advisory

I am reading "Improving the Model for Interactive Readers' Advisory Service" by Neil Hollands, which is in the Spring 2006 issue of Reference & Users Services Quarterly, pages 205-212. I think I may read this article slowly as there seems to be a lot here to ponder. I have only gotten onto the second page and I am having too many thoughts to continue at this point. Just reading Assumption 1 of the "Faulty Assumptions of the Traditional Model" is enough for the moment.

Assumption 1: Readers Will Approach Librarians With RA Questions.

Holland quotes Joyce Saricks from her book Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library. She says, "Most patrons would not consider asking for reading suggestions a valid request." Why not? Don't we look like book people? Doesn't this look like a book place? Pausing to look at where I sit, it occurs to me that this monstrously big reference desk is pulled twenty feet or so away from the bookshelves. There is an aisle, a row of tables, and even a pillar between us and the books. There are some ready reference books behind me, but they do not look like anything to read. There are no visual cues that I have any relationship with the books across the way. We think people are supposed to know that we help with books, but maybe they do not.

Can we change the desk to let it help us say, "Ask us about books"? As it is, a flat screen monitor, a box-like laser printer, and a phone are to my left side and an expansive of black desktop is in front of me. The desk also has a raised ledge to my left, beyond the monitor and printer. There is assorted stuff lying around, including the stapler, tape, and bowl of paper clips that Aaron put out for everyone to use at will. (We have not lost them!) What I do not see are books. I think the desk needs a makeover.

What would encourage people to view us as book people more than some books? We could have books propped in stands, stacked around the ledge, and lying prominently on the desk. This desk is so big that we could devote half of it to displaying books (maybe a third) and still have enough work space. Move the laser printer and we would have even more room to show books.

Visiting small bookshops, I sometimes see employees at desks surrounded by books. They are pulling books from boxes, sticking labels on them, and loading carts. Sometimes they are reading. They often look like book people to me, and if they also look pleasant, I feel I could ask them about the books in their store.

Independent books stores are willing to market their employees to sell their books. They give their employees role in the promotion of their stock. Near the sales desks I sometimes see displays of books with small signs or even post-it-notes. Often the signs say, "Connie recommends" or "Bill's Book of the Week." Sometimes the signs include short book reviews. "They like to read" is the first thing that springs into my mind. Do visitors to the library look at us and think, "They like to read"?

Hollands makes a strong statement: "Others perceive (often correctly!) that librarians are often not prepared to deal with their particular reading interests."

Let us prepare and make our readers' advisory preparations visible. Let's instill some confidence in our abilities to match readers and books. Keep Fiction Catalog, Genreflecting, and other advisory tools right on the desk. Let people see us using them. Keep some issues of Publishers Weekly and Booklist around, too.

When I was a disc jockey long ago, each jockey as he started his show brought a stack of records to the turntables. He knew what he was going to play that day. We can adapt this model for the library. We can each bring a new stack of books with us to the desk as we start a shift. Having books in hand can spark our thoughts when someone asks for reading advice, especially if we have new books every day.

What else can we do? How can we insure that people come to the desk? It seems to me the choice of books that we bring to the desk is important. It should not all be "great literature." Travel guides, decorating books, and paperbacks might be eye-catching. We want to show we know many types of books.

I have one last idea to get the readers to come to our desk - keep the hottest bestsellers there. That may be going too far!

As I finish this essay, I have already encircled the reference desk with books to the amusement of my coworkers. I am usually so neat and my "mess of books" probably looks very calculated. Still it is worth a try. Let's push some books!


Anonymous said...

i saw this on the staff exchange, and then your post here. i was hoping for some pics!! oh well, i'll be in on tuesday.

looking forward to seeing it.

ricklibrarian said...

Good idea. Photos will come, Aaron.