I was delighted to be one of the Twitter Chat Champions on the topic of Reader’s Advisory Service. Overall, the chat was lively and stimulating. I found using Twitter easier this time around than our first chat, and I suspect others did too. I could concentrate on content rather than the mechanics of tweeting. I thank everyone who participated and providing food for thought for this blog.
One of the topics that created a hearty discussion was the potential for libraries to recommend books to patrons by analysing their loans history. Many of us agreed with Kate’s comment: “I want my library to exploit my borrowing data the way amazon exploits my purchasing data. Sell to me library! Sell to me!”. A few raised doubts though. Karen commented: “Kobo (my ereader provider) does this… I don’t like it as I find it limiting”; and Tim: “Issues of privacy?”. Guest tweeter Hugh, @hughrundle, proposed it can be done and wrote a paper on using library patron’s data to help them find what they want while still protecting privacy. Learn more here.
On the topic of why RA is important, Kylie commented: “If ‘books’ are the library’s brand; readers’ advisory is kind of like the library’s ‘sales pitch’”. A positive interaction between librarian and customer by way of effective RA creates a bond that is likely to result in a return visit. In terms of qualities a librarian should possess to deliver RA, being approachable and non-judgmental, and possessing good listening and conversational skills were mentioned. There was also agreement that librarians need to be supported by employers to deliver RA through professional development and time to evaluate resources. In her research, Jo Beazley, a guest librarian tweeter, discusses the value of RA as a skill set librarians should have.
In relation to characteristics of good RA practice, Tim commented: “Think outside the box. Going to a poetry slam on Fri night at SLV in Melbourne. Poetry made accessible.” Going by his review, it was a successful event with many attendees. An event like this is a great way to promote reading and the library, but, I think it is vital to “…know you(r) audience” (Helen). It would be disheartening to organise an event and only have a handful of people turn up, even worse, none.
Keeping a broad view of what RA encompasses, will help libraries and librarians stay current. Promotion and reaching potential customers is an important component. With e-books on the rise and free internet apps readily available, such as Google’s, libraries would benefit from applying marketing strategies to maintain a stable customer base now and into the future. A user-centred approach is key, with a shift of focus from collection to connection where librarians strike a balance between providing a positive user experience and challenging users to grow intellectually and personally. As Hamish put it: “walking that crooked tightrope between challenging the reader and deferring to their tastes.”
RA is a core aspect of library service. In a customer-focused model, it is an opportunity to improve customer relations and encourage return patronage. Providing skilled librarians in delivering RA, using patrons’ borrowing data to recommend books to them, and innovative programs and events to promote reading to existing and potential users are RA practices libraries would benefit from exploring.