Get in touch with your collection!

This month we are looking at Reader’s Advisory tools and ideas. One of the best tools for recommending good books is the simplest one to do: Get in touch with your collection!

Knowing what books you have, what is available on your Overdrive account, and where you can ILL books makes everything so much easier for you.

Several years ago in one of my research studies, I looked at different ways library staff provided service. To look at RA work in public libraries I would go to the desk, tell them I had just read the newest Sue Grafton book and really enjoyed Janet Evaonvich’s books, and ask for suggestions on other books to read. Most people responded just as you would expect: they showed me to their mystery collection, or they offered some basic selections.

However, one library provided the most (unintentionally) example of “what not to do” that I have ever seen!

When I went to the desk, there was clear tension between the young, new woman and the older woman, both helping patrons. I started with the younger woman, and gave her my scenario. She tried to use Novelist to look up this information, but clearly didn’t understand how to use it. (I really wanted to help her, but was posing as a clueless patron.)

After a couple minutes of fumbling, the older woman finished with her patrons and became very snappish to us. She said the information online was terrible and it was a waste of time. (Note: rudeness to your colleagues is never appropriate; and criticizing them in front of patrons is terrible! I immediately hated this woman.)

So she instead told me to come with her to look these authors up in one of their RA books, filled with suggestions. As we walked she asked about the books and the authors – good questions, but surprising for someone who did RA, as both of them have been on the best sellers lists for decades. I said I liked to read mysteries, and she filed that away.

We arrived at the books she wanted to use, on a nice platform right in front of a bookshelf. The books were nice, I spelled Grafton and Evanovich for her, and she left – apparently triumphant that she had made her younger colleague look foolish in front of a patron.

The bookcase we were standing in front of was never referenced, never pointed out, never noticed by her. It was set up to display a big collection of books, very nice and very full, on their topic of the month.

This month: Women Mystery Authors.

I am not kidding.

What a colossal RA disaster. She was so busy being an awful person, that she was also an awful library person!

I did not expect that she would know every single book in her collection – no one would. But knowing the names of best-selling authors is a pretty basic skill.

Knowing where your mystery books are is another pretty basic skill. (They should either be shelved by themselves, or at least have stickers identifying them as mysteries!)

Knowing about the displays in the library is, again, pretty basic. It would be hard (impossible at times) to keep up with every individual book on display; but it is certainly possible to know the general theme.

And it is not out of line to expect library people do, in fact, know many of the books in the collection! Before I started in libraries, I used to manage a small bookstore; and I did know almost every single book on every single shelf. I knew how popular they were, approximately when we had ordered them, and had a good guess on the number of copies we had on hand at any moment.

This in not impressive in the least, because I had teenagers working  for me part-time who also knew all of this.

I am shocked when I go to libraries and people can’t answer questions about the collection. This is a fundamental skill. You have a ton of other things to do; but the materials you offer – books, databases, unusual materials – are the foundation of your library.

Save yourself from being that awful library person when your patrons tell stories about your later! (I’ll never forget her, or her library – for all the wrong reasons!)

In other articles this month, we will talk about other skills and tools you can use to keep your RA skills sharp. But the best and easiest one remains the same: Know Your Collection.

Go ahead and take a few minutes now to get up and stroll around the library. Notice some books you have not paid attention to a while, find a couple books you have not read that look colorful/exciting/unusual. Read the back cover. Flip through the pages, and admire any art. Look at the index and table of contents. You do not have to read all of them, but spending this time regularly will help you to make your RA skills sharp and ready for action!