The RUSA CODES program Establishing and Promoting Readers' Advisory in Small and Medium-sized Libraries was held in room 299 of the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans on Sunday morning, June 25. Room 299 is as far away as a meeting could be. How many started and never reached the room? They should have made the extra effort to get there to hear the program that I think had the most practical ideas of any I attended at the conference.
Patrick Wall of the University City Public Library (Missouri) began the session by saying, "Someone is telling your readers about books and it usually isn't you." He went on to say that librarians have to re-assert their role in the conversation between books and readers. He added that the task is not easy. Support from management and staff has to be gained, and the staff needs to be trained to use readers' advisory tools. He went on to say that readers' advisory is a patron-centered service that will benefit the library with increased circulation and community support.
A point that Wall made is that commercial media promote books only when they are new. Libraries have the charge to bring books back into the public spotlight.
If Megan McArdle of the Chicago Public Library had one main point to make, it was that readers' advisory is not about personal book recommendations. Librarians often balk at being readers' advisors thinking that they have not individually read enough books. RA is about identifying books and matching them with readers. With knowledge of tools and listening to readers, the trained librarian can do the job well. A love of books and public service is the quality that librarians most need.
McArdle recommended library staffs have reading plans in which every staff member read from genres with which she or he has little knowledge. In studying books readers advisors should focus on learning to identify why certain books appeal to readers. This will get them farther than memorizing plots.
McArdle recommended subscribing the Fiction-L list serve.
Sharon Smith of the Kitchener Regional Library (Ontario) described three levels of marketing reading to the public. The first level was "Build It and They Will Come, " which involves setting up special reading collections, creating book displays, printing book lists, and other passive ways of leading readers to books. One good idea that she promoted was creating a Readers' Advisory Notebook in a binder with an ever changing collection of selected book reviews. Promote the notebook to get return users.
The second level is "Kicking It Up a Notch," which is a more active effort to link books and readers. Insert bookmark into books to direct readers to other books. Initiate book conversations with people in the bookstacks. Hand sell books. Put hand-written post-its on books. Low-tech promotions can seem more personal and be more effective. Library-run book clubs, summer reading programs, and city-wide reading programs are part of this second level.
Her number one rule: Never let a reader leave empty-handed.
"Taking It to the Streets" is Smith's third level. She said this is the level at which you really become evangelical. You become a book (and library) advocate, leaving your building. She said we should all offer to be speakers for any community organization that needs a speaker. Go talk about new and old books to schools, churches, service organizations, and anyone else who will listen. Always have a table stocked with handouts and a person to talk about books at community fairs. Put book posters everywhere in the community.
Smith went on to say that we should not just ask local bookstores and newspapers sponsor reading programs - we should ask them to be partners in our programs. Bring them into the planning process, and they will be very generous, for the product will reflect on them. Many bookstores would love the opportunity to partner with the library.
Joanna Hazelton, a branch manager at the Chicago Public Library, spoke about evaluating readers' advisory programs. She said that it is important to report success to promote the service, to get further support for the service, and to evaluate the library's collections.
Hazelton recommended many output measures:
1. Comment cards - Put cards in books on display and hand them out whenever you give a reader a book. Ask whether the reader enjoyed the book. Ask what kinds of books the library should add.
2. Anecdotal evidence - Record any useful thing that a reader says during reference interviews.
3. Statistics for readers' advisory - Make RA a category on the reference tally sheet.
4. Web page statistics - If you create book web pages, monitor their use.
5. Circulation statistics - If you promote specific titles or collections, gather checkout statistics.
In the question period after the presentations, the speakers recommended The Booktalker's Manual by Chapple Langemack. Booktalk podcasts were also recommended; two voices in conversation should be used to make them lively and more interesting.
This program had the best handouts of any program that I attended at the conference. One handout reproduced articles from Libraries Unlimited's Readers' Advisory News, including an article on graphic novels written in comic book format. It is pretty cool.
It was worth the long hike getting to Room 299.