Thursday, October 31, 2013

Getting Started with Readers’ Advisory, by Beth Saxton


Readers’ Advisory (RA) is finding the right book for a patron at the right time. We can use the same methods to provide a similar service to the users of the library’s other collections including music and video (media advisory of all types is becoming more important as libraries focus on service and community building rather than physical collections.), but to keep our examples simple I’m going to focus on books today.

We can provide passive readers’ advisory with booklists, displays, and programming or active readers’ advisory at the desk or in the stacks. For those of you who don’t have experience with RA, rest assured the same things that make for a successful reference interview also apply to the RA interview. Be approachable, ask open-ended questions, and listen carefully to what the patron is saying without jumping to conclusions.

Patrons often initiate the RA interview by asking for a general book recommendation or share that they’ve read an author’s entire backlist and are looking for something similar. Librarians can initiate RA conversations by asking patrons browsing the stacks or displays if we can help them find something to read.

You can get a better idea of what the patron is looking for with a few general questions:
  • Can you tell me about your favorite book? 
  • What is the last thing you read that you enjoyed? Why? 
  • What don’t you like in a book?

The last one can be especially helpful if you work in a politically or socially conservative part of the country. Often what your patron doesn’t like will have to do with sex, violence, or language. It is so much better to find these things out up front than have an offended patron later. Other times the answer will be something like “lots of description” or “wimpy female characters” which also helps you narrow down the options.

Usually follow up questions present themselves based on the patron’s answers. For example you’ll want to find out if they prefer historical fiction set in specific eras or whether the mysteries they like to read feature professional or amateur detectives.  These are what we call appeal factors, the essential things that connect a reader to the book.

Some appeal factors:
  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Mood 
  • Characters
  • Plot driven vs. character driven
  • Subject 
  • Style

Keep in mind that the obvious answer isn’t always the right one. A reader might seem to prefer mysteries, but what actually draws her to the book is the protagonist being an independent woman of a certain age. Learning what follow-up questions to ask and sorting out a wide variety of possible appeal factors takes experience, but stick with it and you’ll get better. It never hurts to practice on family members and co-workers!

Now that you’ve done your best to establish what the customer is looking for, the next step is to select the best tools to provide the answer. This is another way that the RA process is no different from any other type of reference transaction. Of course, nothing replaces reading broadly and knowing your own collection but that takes time and we are only human. NoveList, online lists created by libraries, and professional reviews are all valuable tools for readers’ advisory. Print genre guides may also be helpful, but obviously become quickly outdated.

While the appropriate professional listservs can often be helpful, please do not use them as your first resource. The rest of us on those listservs are all too busy to send you things you could find on the first couple pages of Google results. You will receive many more helpful responses and help your own reputation by sending a detailed request for help including the sources you’ve already used and the titles you have compiled so far.

Once you have made your suggestions you’ll want to wrap up the interaction on a positive note. We want to send the message that not only is it our job to help patrons with these questions, but that we actually care if they get what they came for.

Always leave the patron with multiple books to consider and let them know they should take only the ones that interest them. I always suggest they check out multiple titles and that they should feel free to stop reading if they find that one is not what they are looking for. Not only do some readers need a strange sort of permission to abandon a book, but it doesn’t hurt our circulation rates either.

Good readers’ advisory takes training and practice, but it’s well worth it to provide good customer service and promote the library collection.

Beth Saxton is a Youth Services Librarian with over a decade of experience in public libraries. She is a graduate of the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario and tweets at @BethReads and blogs about youth services and young adult literature at

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making Connections


I'm still within my first year at this job, so I'm still doing all those new person things you need to do. High on my "new person" list of priorities is getting better connected with the faculty. (Caveat: my drive to connect with all of the faculty is partially a factor of the size of my school. Small school = fewer faculty = manageable for the library director to get to know all of them.) I'm doing everything I can think of to make these connections - asking to attend department meetings, learning about their research interests, participating in campus wide committees, etc. 

There's something else I've been doing lately that you, the newbrarian who is my intended audience, might not think of doing. I do my best to keep keep up with publishing news, and I then share it with my school. I want to make sure that the members of my faculty are informed, leaving them to concentrate on their main mission: research and teaching. How do I keep the faculty up-to-date? It's pretty simple: I sent a couple of emails recently that illustrate the idea.

I sent the first to all faculty and staff, and it included the full text of an email about SUNY's open textbook program, with an introduction:
"Hello all. Please excuse the wholesale forward, but I believe this entire email will be of interest. The cost of textbooks is major barrier for many of our students, and this new effort from SUNY is very promising. If anyone wants assistance accessing this or other open access resources, we in the library are here to help."
The second was more directed, sent solely to the two people on campus who teach chemistry:
"Have you two seen this yet? Apparently ACS has digitized and opened up their pre-1996 archives:
Nice development."
Both emails led to good conversations, and the second one actually got me a one-on-one meeting with a full professor of chemistry. I was so excited about the meeting that I even tweeted about it:

I've written about building faculty/community relationships in the past, and I'm sure I'll write about it again in the future. With my background as an instruction librarian -> instruction coordinator -> director, I'm definitely centered on students, so community building and outreach are important to me. However, I know that faculty are my surest path to students, so the professoriate is an equally important part of my community.

How about those of you who work with faculty? I know there are plenty of academic librarians who read LtaYL. Any advice to share with the newbrarian readers?

One last note - those kitties are up there because I still think of academic community outreach, especially faculty outreach, as herding cats (and trust me, I know I'm not the only one to use that analogy). Those kitties look tense, like they could fight or love on each other at the drop of a whisker, but there's a tentative connection. Even the smallest connections can lead to something good.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Leaders Needed at Rural Libraries, by Natalie Binder


You’ve always wanted to work in a public library. You believe in service, citizenship, and community. You value relationships; when you imagined being a librarian, you imagined participating in local government and getting to know your patrons by name. You want to make a big impact—not just in your career, but in people’s lives. You want to be a generalist, not a specialist. You want to have a great quality of life on a librarian’s salary. And when you started library school, you wanted to be a traditional, book-based, community librarian, but it seems like those jobs are either disappearing or impossible to get.

If that sounds like you, you may be a rural librarian at heart—which is great news, because rural libraries need you. These jobs rarely appear on listservs or job boards, but the “graying” of the profession is very real in rural libraries. Many rural libraries have a long-serving librarian (or staff) who will be retiring soon. And since rural libraries are often quite small, you can quickly rise to an influential leadership role and have a strong say in how these small libraries meet the challenges of the future.

I’ve worked in a rural library since before library school—four years this month—and I love my job. Every day I go to work knowing that I will make an impact on someone’s life. Every day something terrific, exciting, or funny happens at my library, and though I am not in administration, I always feel like my contributions and ideas are appreciated and valued. There are many other benefits to rural librarianship. While salaries are generally low, a dollar goes much further in rural communities than it does in urban or academic communities, and affordable housing is rarely an issue. You can probably afford to live much closer to a beach, farm, or lovely national park than you imagine. If the library is adequately staffed, working conditions are also good. Rural libraries enjoy strong community support, and small staffs often work together to ensure flex time is available for things like childcare and family events. Rural libraries are usually quite safe—while no public library is conflict-free, your patrons are more likely to bring you homegrown vegetables than complaints.

Best of all, rural libraries serve as true community centers, where far-flung and diverse groups can come together. A rural library often serves as a small town’s largest meeting room, its only Internet hotspot, the only local, affordable entertainment for adults and children, and an access point for badly needed social services. My library serves as the physical “office” for employment services, child welfare and legal aid.

Of course, no type of library is for everyone. Rural libraries are generalist libraries. As a rural librarian you will frequently be called to do things your master’s degree never prepared you for, from running a farmer’s market to repairing a child’s shoe. If you’re interested in doing something quite specialized or academic, it’s probably best to begin your job search elsewhere. If you need to be surrounded by other young academics, or enjoy a lot of social activities, then you probably won’t enjoy the quiet and isolation of a rural community. If you’re married, it can be a challenge for your spouse to find work in town.

Finally, in small towns there is little division between your personal life and your work life. Your patrons, co-workers, Friends group, Board of Directors, and government leaders are also your friends and neighbors. Sometimes it feels like you’re never off the job! For this reason, it’s very important to move slowly, get community buy-in, and be prepared to backtrack on big changes. That can be a challenge if you’re fresh out of library school and eager to change the world.

I have seen too many “new directors” leave or lose their rural jobs because of avoidable conflicts among stakeholders. It’s great to have vision and ambition, but if you’re more combative than cooperative, you’ll have a hard time achieving your goals in a small town. Even if your library seems like a mess that you were hired to fix (or “bring up to date”), plan to spend a full year or more listening and learning before you try to change the system. When you become a librarian at a rural library, you’re also joining small, stable team of prominent citizens and community leaders whose support you’ll need for years or even decades. Make those relationships a priority, and always take the long view in any conflict.

If that sounds like a challenge you’re up to, then you can begin your rural job hunt locally. No matter where you live, you’re probably not far from a small library system. Check county job boards, or see if there’s a volunteer position available. Ask if you can shadow a librarian or staff member for a day or two. These jobs are not usually widely advertised. Take your time and get to know the rural libraries and communities around you. Even if you decide to look elsewhere for a permanent job, you’ll be in for a fun, rewarding and educational experience.

Natalie Binder is a librarian at a small library in rural Florida. She is a graduate of Florida State University's College of Communication and Information. She is also the founder and moderator of #libchat, a Twitter chat for librarians and library school students. She can be found on Twitter @nvbinder.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When You Wish Upon a Library


Before I launch into this week's topic, I want to say up front that this idea is not original to me. It's something I encountered a while ago and I've forgotten where. (If you've recognize it, please let me know where I got it in the comments.)

Anyway, this post is about one of my my favorite marketing ploys - a question I've asked in one-on-one situations, in focus groups, on surveys, and at multiple schools: "I wish my library... (fill in the blank)." I always include a caveat as well, something along the lines: "As you answer, imagine that budget and other constraints aren't a concern, but understand that budget will be an issue in our reacting to your wishes."

The answers are always incredibly informative, so, when I had the opportunity to tweak the library oriented questions on out exiting/graduating senior surveys for last year, I went right to my favorite open ended question.

What did I learn? As I already said, this question always yields a ton of information, so the short answer is that I learned a lot. The thing is, I learned more than what the students actually said, and that's really the heart of what I want to tell you this week. You see, when you're looking at qualitative data like this, you need to take the context and other factors into account. What do I mean by that? Well, take as an example the fact that a sizable group of students said they wished the library could be open 24/7. Am I going to fight to increase my staffing levels as a result? Truthfully, even if we could afford to staff the library 24/7 and could find people willing to work late night hours, I wouldn't do it. Why not? I know they don't really want 24/7 because I know that nobody really wants to use the library first thing on Saturday mornings - we used to be open then, and through observation over the course of a couple of years backed up by a quick study over the course of a month, we were able to determine that patrons were never in the library before noon on Saturdays. The underlying message I see in the 24/7 request is increased access to the information and resources, so I'm working on other ways to achieve that. On the other hand, the repeated comments in the results that pointed out the need for small group study space are absolutely going to inform future budget requests and planning: I know that the library is one of the few places on campus that has any kind of group study space and I know that area is constantly in use - sometimes to overflowing.

Assessment is an underlying theme of a lot of what I write on this blog. One of my earliest guest posts was about how research informs what we do in libraries. (By the way, if you're not reading Jacob Berg's blog, The Beerbrarian, you're missing out. He's brilliant.) But context is crucial. You can't look at your data in a vacuum, since that's not where it exists. It's all about a continuous improvement cycle, anyway.

I guess what I'm saying here is that, no matter if you use the technique I discuss above or something more traditional, it's just as much a failing to miss the forest for the trees as it is to miss the trees for the forest. Big picture and little picture need to work together, so don't forget context.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

From Student Worker to Librarian in a Few Easy Steps, by Bryn Wolanski


When I started my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to get a job in the circulation department in my college’s library. That was one of the most life changing experiences that I’ve ever had. I was majoring in English and, for three years as I worked at the library, I struggled with the crazy notion of going to graduate school. Up until that point in my life, I hadn't thought that far ahead, thinking that a bachelor’s degree would be good enough for me. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do with that degree, but I loved literature so I went with it. However. this issue of another degree kept coming up from those around me. (In particular, Jessica was one of the first to ask me about it! Yes, I was a student worker at the same library where Jessica used to work.) [Editor’s Note: I didn’t know that until I read the draft. I’m grinning now.] I ultimately decided that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have an advanced degree, especially when I knew I’d enjoy what I was doing.  
For those of you in grad school for library science, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to start working at a library while you’re in school. Get experience while you’re earning your degree. It puts your education into context (things are very different between the concepts you learn about and putting those concepts into practice) and can lead to learning even more about what you’ll be doing. If you can’t apply for a job in the particular field you want, you might want to consider a job in a different kind of library (hey, a job is a job and it can provide for some really interesting discussion topics!). Besides, experience is experience. Anything is better than nothing. I’ve looked at a lot of job applications and they all want you to have some sort of background in a library before they want to hire you. You might as well start somewhere and get a little time under your belt. Besides, it’s a great way to put your foot in the door and you never know what kinds of opportunities might pop up from there! More recently, I went from being a page to doing reference in less than a year just because I was at the right place at the right time (and, of course, saying I was getting my degree really helped).
Something else that I’ve learned is super important: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I don’t mean just in a classroom setting; I mean in every aspect of life. One of the only ways I got my practicum – at the Library of Congress! – was because I just asked to talk to one of the librarians there. It’s also how I got a bunch of local stores to take fliers promoting a program I’ll be hosting. You never know what an inquiry could lead to. The worst that could happen is someone says no, in which case shrug it off and move on to the next opportunity. You never know unless you try first, however, and you always owe yourself a chance.
It took me a little while to develop what librarianship meant to me. Despite having worked in multiple libraries, I found it to be more than just a job. Other students I worked with were only there because they thought it was easy. However, I liked the challenging parts of it and I still thrive on those aspects. I love researching and finding and teaching others how to do what I’m doing. I get to feel like a hero when I find just what the patron is looking for. For a while writing this I couldn’t figure out a good way to compare how I feel about librarianship, but then it sort of hit me in the face when I was looking at some of our posters at work. Librarians are heroes without their masks. Batgirl’s real-life persona is Barbara Gordon and guess what? She’s a librarian. Her character defies the stereotypical librarian ideas. She kicks but AND educates people. We all have that ability to own librarianship and make it our own, change the way people see it. Heck, even though Batgirl gets injured later on in the Batman world, she still becomes Oracle and continues to help out in a different way. Just because we’re not all active crime fighters doesn’t mean we’re still not helping others in a different way. With great librarianship comes great responsibility. Go out there and don’t be afraid to use it!

Bryn Wolanski is a recent graduate from Kent State University's Library and Information Science program. She currently works as a library reference associate for a small public library but is looking for something more permanent in a academic library. She's fresh on the Twitter scene but can be found as @TheLibrariBryn.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Than Money: Book Sales as Outreach and Marketing


We started a book sale at my library recently. There were book sales in the past, apparently, but were always one-shot deals. Those can be profitable, but they are also so much work. At this stage of things I wanted something with relatively low maintenance. So we set out three bookshelves in the area near the circulation desk, filled them with books and sundry, and we've been replenishing them as people purchase stuff. It's going well so far, although it has tapered off a bit since the first rush when it was brand new. I'm not worried since we've been strategizing about how to keep people aware of and buying from the book sale. I'm confident it will be a small but steady revenue stream for the library.

The emphasis in this instance is on "small." This book sale isn't going to provide enough money to make any major purchases for our collection. At first I thought I'd use the money to add some popular appeal materials to the collection - graphic novels, Hollywood movies, etc. But then I had a moment of inspiration, thanks to a conversation I had with a student.

You see, I have a weekly meeting with a liaison from our student government. She brings me concerns from the students - things like noise in the library and printing issues are typical. She also brings announcements from me back to SGA. We were talking about the book sale, and about how I was hoping to get SGA's help with picking the movies and such that I'll buy. Her response was interesting: she mentioned that students in certain majors complain sometimes about not having enough new library materials in their areas.

We talked about how expensive academic library materials can be, and how little money we've earned so far. But then I realized this was a perfect opportunity for outreach/marketing, and I said: "How about we leave how I'll spend this money up to SGA?" She smiled broadly and told me she'd get back to me with SGA's response.

And it's that moment that prompted me to write this post. Are we going to earn a lot of money from the book sale? No. Does that mean I'm going to stop the book sale? Again, I say: no. That's why I wanted low maintenance, slow and steady. Return on investment considerations and all that. The thing is, the relationship building that resulted - and the positive PR I'm going to get with SGA - make the book sale worth the effort. Besides, everyone who purchases something from our book sale is going to get a little bit of happy from helping the library. Wins all around.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The ILLbrarian is In, by Andrew Shuping

You've just graduated library school and you're heading off to your first job that involves...interlibrary loan? How the heck does that work? I mean, yes, you ordered things through for yourself through interlibrary loan, but no one ever explained how you're supposed to manage it. They never even mentioned it in library school (or, if you’re lucky, they mentioned it in passing). What do you do? Have no fear, for the ILLbrarian is here! Seriously ILL work can be fun and challenging. And it requires a wide variety of skills and talents to help the department work well.

What types of skills do you need to do this job?
  • You need the skills of an expert detective because you've got to be able to track down some of the most obscure citations ever. Your patrons will come to you with the title of a book written in French and know that it was published sometime between 1825 and 1925 and the cover might have been blue, but also could have been green. And you've got to work with that. It's fun, it's challenging, sometimes requires calling on the help of other librarians to find the thing and sometimes you just have to tell your patron that "Sorry, we can't find it. If you have more information let me know and we'll try again."
  • You need technology skills. Just like everyone else entering the library field you need to know how to operate a computer, a scanner, navigate the online world, and have the ability to troubleshoot on the fly. This is becoming more and more important as interlibrary loan operations are moving to the cloud and require some careful maneuvering to make sure your department stays running. You may be running an ILL management system, such as ILLiad or Clio. These can make processing requests and keeping statistics much easier, but the amount of work you have to set it up and keep it maintained? You’ll be putting all of your talents and skills to use some days.
  • You need budgeting skills, because money is tight everywhere and you've got to be able to know how much you're spending to acquire materials. Sure there are libraries and groups that will lend to you for free, but for those obscure items you’ve got to go to the Big Libraries on the block and they like to charge. So you have to watch and make sure you don’t spend too much on it all.
  • There’s also the copyright factor to consider. We typically follow the rule of five, which is you can request five articles from the same journal published within the last five years, and then after that you have to pay copyright on it. [Editor’s note: Sorry to butt in, but please understand that this is not legal advice Andrew is giving. Neither he nor I are intellectual property lawyers. Copyright law is constantly evolving.] And man...can some of those publishers *cough* scientific publishers *cough* charge a lot. Some of them can run $40 to a $100 for a 20 page article.
  • You need people and communication skills. Sure you’re working with citations all day and shipping and whatnot, but you have to be able to communicate not only with your own patrons as to their requests, such as letting them know that it’s there or you need more information, but you have to communicate with other libraries as well. Sometimes you have to send other libraries (or your own patrons) bills for materials, letting them know that you need something back, or even worse -- letting them know that you have to pay for an item. Stuff happens, it isn’t always pleasant, but you gotta put your best face on and deal with it. You also need to be able to work with vendors and tech support. Hopefully you’ll get a good vendor that will work with you and be honest. Sometimes’ve got to be nice, but firm, and let them know you won’t take crap. 
  • You need collection development skills. Five years ago this may not have been true, but more and more these days you’ve got to be able to look at a request and say “You know what, its better we go ahead and buy this one because it will benefit the collection.” And then you get to work within the confines of requesting stuff...but that’s a different story.

Other skills include: assessment, manual/procedure writing, and being able to manage people -- either staff or student assistants or both.

So it takes a wide variety of skills to be successful, but believe it or not...most of it you’ve already learned. You just get to combine it in new and exciting ways. 

Andrew Shuping is currently the Interlibrary Loan & Public Services Librarian at Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University Macon, GA. He has been involved in libraries for over nine years and with Interlibrary Loan for over seven years. Andrew can be found at and goes by the user name ashuping where ever he can, such as on Twitter: @ashuping.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Content, Not Format

I sent this tweet (and posted it as a status update on Facebook as well) in a moment of deep frustration. Leading up to that point, I'd had a string of interactions, with students, faculty, and staff that left me slightly gobsmacked. Although the specifics were different, in each moment I was being told, "Paper good. Electronic bad." I don't want to share further details since I'm not interested in shaming the people involved. What I want is to educate them. Even still, I can't help imagining these people talking like characters from Animal Farm:


When I posted the above to my social networks, I was expecting it to be one of the many many tweets/Facebook status updates I send off into the abyss. I was wrong. In fact, the response was so strong, that I realized there was a blog post in it. However, before I go any further, I want you to know that I know writing this post to my typical audience is preaching to the converted. I see this more as me giving you ways to present the topic to those who still need convincing.

So, we need to ignore my previous exhortations that all sources should be evaluated based on the Five Ws, and pretend that we know absolutely nothing about the merit of different resources. Let's look at the kinds of arguments that might work to convince someone to change their stance on this issue:

  • There is no such thing as a source that is never appropriate (go ahead, write an essay about Wikipedia without citing Wikipedia, and see what kind of response you get).
  • Also, there is a risk in professors taking this kind of stance around students, particularly those who are younger than 25 and whose brains are still maturing, is that students can be so literal. I have, more than once, tried to bring a student over to a computer to show him/her how to use the online public access catalog, only to be told, "Oh, I'm not allowed to use online sources."
  • What about all the craptastic, self-published books?
  • What about all the refereed, web-based publications? One example is Disability Studies Quarterly, a source that, in the past, I required my own students to read.
  • We also need to remind people that so many online sources are faithful reproductions of publications that were originally hard copies.
  • A more practical argument is that, with book budgets being slashed, the books in the physical library can sometimes (though not always) be terribly out of date.

I tell people all these things, and yet some of them still insist that paper is supreme. Usually, though, if I'm persistent and keep presenting examples, I win them over.

How do you change people's minds about this? Also, why do you think we're still fighting this fight? Is it that nobody has tried to convince the "Paper good; electronic bad" crowd? Or is it something deeper?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: A Mighty Princess

About a month ago, I read an op-ed piece that made the rounds on social media, "My Life as a Warrior Princess." I was a huge fan of Xena back in the day, and that op-ed piece reminded me not only of my love of the show, but also of all the reasons why. After reading that NYT piece, I felt inspired to start rewatching it. The fact that Netflix has the entire series available on streaming made it all a reality. And, being me, I've also been live-tweeting my viewing:
Beyond how snark-able and MST3K-able the show is (always done with a love of the show in mind), here are some of the other things I love about this show:
  • Delicious anachronisms;
  • Over the top acting;
  • Strong feminist story lines. 

I even changed my Twitter profile to reflect part of the intro: "She was Jessica, a mighty librarian forged in the heat of battle."

How about you? What's your favorite thing about Xena? (And if you don't like Xena, why not?)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Congress Shall Make No Law


I've got a longer post brewing for next week, but I thought a short post about a pet peeve.

The first amendment protects against the government silencing you or erasing your words, and only the government. If someone else deletes your words, like GoodReads or The New York Times or even a blogger (yes, I have deleted comments from this blog - not often, but I have), it is not a violation of your first amendment rights.

Here's my question: how is it that so many people misunderstand this?

I genuinely don't understand this, so I'd love hear your opinions.

Post Script: It feels weird to look at that title considering what Congress is doing - or not doing, which is more to the point - today.