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Friday, August 9, 2013

ARRT Takes Over the Blog: What to do When Your Sure Bet is Checked Out by Annabelle Mortensen

For our final day of ARRT Taking Over the Blog, we have Annabelle, blogger and librarian who came to me with the idea for a post about what to do when your sure bet isn't there to give to a patron.  Readers of RA for All know that I love to talk about sure bets, so I jumped on her idea right away.
Every year members of the Adult Reading Round Table’s steering committee create an annotated bibliography that’s distributed at our fall program. In 2013 we’ll offer a list of sure bets, those compelling titles that appeal to a wide range of readers. (Of course, the term “sure bet” is imprecise, but it’s a lot catchier than “halfway-decent-odds bet,” which is usually closer to the mark). These sure bets are especially useful when readers’ advisors aren’t working with a lot of information (i.e., the dreaded “I like good books that are well written” patron). Most of us have at least a few sure bets up our sleeve, books we adore and handsell with enthusiasm. It’s a thrill to share these stories with readers.

But some days, that thrill is gone. Gone as in checked out, on reserve, sent away via ILL. I’ll admit I’ve been dismayed by the commercial success of Kate Atkinson. Not that she doesn’t richly deserve the attention, but I’ve given up evangelizing for Case Histories--it’s never on shelf. One colleague used to recommend A Game of Thrones left and right. Now the direwolf is out of the bag. And don’t get me started on Gillian Flynn. It’s like seeing your favorite indie rock band hit it big and play arenas instead of the cramped bar around the corner. But even if the author you love to book talk hasn’t reached the stratospheric heights of the Times bestsellers list, you may frequently find yourself reaching for a sure bet that has already left the building. When that happens, here are a few things you can try to make sure no one walks away from your desk empty-handed:


1) Buy more copies. Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, but libraries rarely carry more than a couple copies of backlist titles, and these are sure-bet bread and butter. So if you extol Louise Penny’s Still Life to every third mystery reader, it might be time to stock up. In fact, have every RA staff member select a personal sure bet or two and then order extras. So what if you have to weed a bit more or reallocate funds from another genre to compensate? Think like a bookstore and stock what you know you can sell.

2) If your library doesn’t already have a sure bets list online or as a handout, keep a small list of your own, perhaps breaking them down by genre or appeal. Before every desk shift, pick a handful and check the catalog to make sure they’re available, and write down the titles and a word or two of description on a sticky note you carry with you. (I once heard Nancy Pearl suggest that you pull books and have them at the ready, but I’m usually too lazy to actually take this step.) I’ve found that this exercise helps ward off brain freeze even if I’m faced with someone whose reading habits don’t match any of the titles on the list. Right now I have True Grit, The Rook, Wife 22, Maisie Dobbs and Destiny of the Republic on my mini list, and I’ll swap those out with different titles once they’re checked out.

3) As ARRT founding member Joyce Saricks has reminded us, freshen up your sure bets from time to time. A good place to start is by checking out recommended book lists that are a few years old. I like referring to archived Indie Next guides and RUSA CODES’ yearly reading lists as these are concise and highlight titles from a variety of genres. Speaking of which, it’s worth focusing on genre blends. A book like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus has the potential to attract readers of fantasy, romance, bildungsromans and/or historical fiction in one fell swoop. (Incidentally, The Night Circus will appear on the ARRT bibliography, which--obvs!--will be another great resource.)

Annabelle Mortensen is a member of the ARRT Steering Committee and a librarian at Skokie Public Library. You can follow her rants and raves on the blog Well-Read.

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