Friday, March 01, 2013

On Hearing the Webinar "Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers"

I am glad that some webinars are recorded for future viewing. Like many others in smaller libraries, I can not count on actually attending webinars live even when I am off the reference desk. Such was the case when I prepared to attend "Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers." Just as I was about to log in, a client wanting followup on a prior request asked for me and then a computer at the checkout desk had a problem. By the time I got back to my desk, the program was more than half over. I saw no use in even logging in, knowing that I could hear it later.

I finally "attended" the program two weeks later. While I did not have the opportunity to tweet a question, I still enjoyed hearing the conversation about trends in readers' advisory services. The panel included Robin Nesbitt of Columbus Metropolitan Library, Duncan Smith of NoveList, and Barry Trott of Williamsburg Regional Library. The moderator was Laurel Tarulli of Dalhousie University.

While listening was much more important than viewing in this presentation, I did notice right off the bat  a slide showing that Columbus Metropolitan Library has a plan through 2020 to increase spending and the size of the physical collection. Robin and Barry affirmed their libraries were committed to both physical and digital collections. Barry did note that his library will not buy either format when overpriced (ebooks to libraries at 3 or 4 times the retail rate).

Early in the conversation, the delivery of asynchronous readers' advisory was discussed. This would include suggesting books through displays and booklists - pretty much every pitch that is not face-to-face. Barry pointed out that this important work is sometimes labelled "passive." He dislikes "passive" which suggests it is easy RA, which he wants to dispel. Much study and preparation is required to do effective asynchronous RA. Staff needs time to do it.

One of the panelists mentioned how RA is usually done from desks where some of the staff are not confident in their skills to suggest books, but the job falls to them anyway. Or staff knows some genres but not others. Perhaps it was Robin who said her library keeps short read-a-like lists for major authors handy to help these staff members. Making our own read-a-like lists is something that we would like to do more at my library, but we rarely find much time to do it (asynchronous RA takes time). When in need of read-a-likes for a reader, we pull up NoveList, which has nine titles to suggest for pretty much every title that has an entry. Of course, we then have to see if we own those titles. We do not look as smart as if we had our own in-house lists, but we do teach readers they can use NoveList themselves at any time anywhere.

Duncan noted how readers' advisory is not like most reference work. Usually, librarians are diligent in getting the right answer. With RA, there is not right answer. Librarians are judiciously offering possibilities. The readers will decide what is right for them.

Duncan noted that libraries do well in promoting the message that libraries save people money. What they do not do well is convince people that they save them time. For some people, time is more important than money, and they would be willing to pay to get what they need quickly. Barry (I think) said that people are beginning to ask more frequently whether libraries can sell them books. Perhaps this is a result of bookstores disappearing. Is there an opportunity here for libraries to bridge the gap? Should libraries allow "Buy it now" buttons on websites and in catalogs? The panel seemed willing to consider such changes, but Duncan warned of confusing library users as to what is free library service and what is not.

Robin, who comes to RA as a cataloger, said that the digital transformation of libraries has spread RA services to full library staffs. Anyone who designs the website, writes reviews, or enters data into the catalog influences how well the library delivers reading suggestions to library users. Robin, Barry, and Duncan agreed that the most needed development for RA and for library service as a whole is improving online library catalogs. Surveys of library users have shown that when polled about their library's website experiences, a majority of them think the online catalog is the website. Statistics show that online catalogs have tremendously more traffic than library websites. Robin said that we should focus on catalogs and that they need to change from inventory tools to tools for discovery. Catalogs need to cater to library users' needs with information about library services, programs, and collection, including tools to guide readers to good materials.

I enjoyed the panel discussion which both affirmed RA work being done at our library and offers plenty of ideas to consider.

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