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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Starting the RA Conversation Without Saying a Word

One of the newer things (in the last year) we have added at the BPL RA desk is a more regular impromptu display.  I know, this sounds like an oxymoron (regular, impromptu), but that is the best way to describe it.

What we did was put a small desk right next to the RA service desk.  It is literally right next to one of the two computers we have for staff to work the desk.  On it we put up about 10-12 books on a topic.  Sometimes we have readalikes for a popular bestseller or for a current book based movie.  During the winter Betty made lists of cold weather inspired books.

The point is, we gather a few books that are related, and at the very least put up a sign identifying why they have been put there.  We do not plan these displays as we do we our two more formal displays (which are planned out months in advance with subjects and staff assignments).  Anyone at the RA desk can change the display to whatever they want.  We only ask that the displays stay up at least a week and that they are switched to something with a coherent idea linking the books.  The key is that we put them next to our desk where patrons can see them on their way to the circulation desk, and so that these titles can spark a conversation between the staff and the patrons.

Let me explain using yesterday as an example.  John worked on Sunday (a popular day when we change this impromptu display).  John is also the staff member in charge of supervising all displays in the department.  John gathered 12 fiction titles with an apocalyptic theme.  He made a sign with a mushroom cloud that simply said "Ka-Boom!"  That was it. An idea, 12 books to match it, and a simple, yet eye catching sign.

I worked Monday morning and the sign grabbed many people's attention.  This is common when we change this small display, but as the day went on, less than 24 hours after John put it up, the display paid off in tangible RA terms.

I saw a 40-something patron looking at the display.  He had his hand on a Scott Sigler book.  Since he was right next to me and had stopped to pick up a book, I started to talk to him about Sigler.  Turns out, he had read everything Sigler has written already, but was drawn to the display because it had other titles he enjoyed too.  We started talking about apocalyptic fiction and I asked if he had read The Passage.  He said no and asked if it was good.  "It was only the best book I read last year, I told him."

I got him a Large Print copy because it was the only copy in, which it turns out he prefers so that he can read without his contacts in.  (Another thing learned about this patron)  We continued to talk about other authors and titles he might enjoy.  He even suggested a book to me, River God by Wilbur Smith.  I wrote it down to put on my Shelfari to-read list.

I had a 5 minute patron transaction.  We talked about what he liked and disliked, we shared book suggestions, I learned about his format preferences, and I got to meet someone who uses our fiction collection regularly but has never stopped to talk to us, all because John changed the impromptu display.  It is also important to note that I did not let him think I was the only one who could help him.  I ended our conversation by reminding him to come back and tell whoever was at the desk how he liked The Passage. He left satisfied, with a few books to read, and with the feeling that the RA department of the BPL cared about him and his leisure reading.

So what began as a display put up by John, turned into me having an in depth conversation with a patron.  That was just one of hundreds of examples of RA conversations that have begun as a result of this regular impromptu display.

It doesn't take much to spark a conversation between the RA staff and patrons.  Try putting a few books on your desk, make a simple sign using Word, and see how many RA conversations you start in a day, in 2, in a week.  Then put out a few more books under a different heading, and see what happens then.  You will be surprised how many patrons will notice and use your impromptu display as a bridge to begin talking with you about their next good read.

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