This week at the BPL RA desk I got exactly the patron I warn my students about each and every semester, and it is exciting and terrifying (at the same time), even for a veteran like me. But I have to admit, I love the challenge.
Here is the set up. A late-30s woman walks into the library and asks for an "easy read." More probing from me leads to the revelation that she is going on a 6 hour plane ride and will then spend 10 days on the beach and wants a book that will "captivate her."
Okay, first warning bell goes off in my head. What I find captivating may be be what she finds captivating. I asked more questions and found she wanted new or "hot" books. She likes to stay "ahead of the curve," or at least even with it.
She seemed to want books that were popular with book discussion groups, but not difficult or overly depressing, although sad was okay. I started throwing out titles to see if she had read and liked them. For example, she has read and liked The Lovely Bones, books by Jodi Picoult, and The Secret Life of Bees. So she wants substance, but not plodding pace; she wants a page-turner with some substance behind it. Also, I checked if she minded a mystery or suspense element and she was fine with that too.
I also found out (again by asking) that she likes to have read books that are going to be made into movies. This goes with her wanting to be ahead of the curve issue.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is provocative, moves steadily, has a bit of suspense, and will be a movie in 2010. My book discussion group read this book and I wrote about it here. As I handed her Never Let Me Go I began by talking up the movie (due 2010) and how she will be ahead of the curve.
Lutz mystery The Spellman Files (which I read here) and played up how popular she has become since this breakout debut. I told her she should read this first and then she could come back and read the new one. She loved being in on a hot new author from her beginnings.
goodie by an always popular author: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a short and captivating coming of age story. I talked it up by focusing on Kingsolver's popularity, my own experience leading a discussion on this title, and this book's timeless charm. She knew of Kingsolver and had never read her, so for her this qualified as "hot."
Notice none of these books are particularly"hot" or new in and of themselves. In fact, they are just some of our popular back list titles. They would not be featured on display at your local book store right now. That is not the point. RA service is about selling the right book to the patron for their particular reading need at that moment.
You need to think of a book or author and then find a way to tell the potential reader the highlights as it pertains to their reading tastes or needs. Depending on who you are talking to, you will sell the book differently. For example, I played down the SF angle on Never Let Me Go, but mentioned it, saying it was dystopian, not aliens, just so she was prepared. I also did not give away the huge twist but did let her know there was a big secret about the school which the characters attend (to find out click here).
Also, it is important to give your patrons at least 3 choices. She took all three (2 pbs and one medium sized hard cover) and can always switch if she is no longer captivated by any. There is nothing worse than being stuck on vacation with nothing to read! (An exaggeration, I know)
Not a single one of these books was on the new shelf, but they were all "hot" titles as I sold them. It is all about perception. She got 3 great books, tailored to her needs, all by stopping by the RA desk before going on vacation. And it didn't cost her a cent.
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