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Friday, November 7, 2014

Soapbox Rant About Judgemental RA Librarians

Those of you who know me, even a little, know that I am not a person who is ashamed to state my opinion, even if it means disagreeing with a majority opinion.  I am never rude about it, but I am blunt.  As my library bff likes to say, “you don’t suffer fools...at all.”

So, I am always especially affronted when after years and years [and years] of me [and others] in the RA world reminding people that no matter what, to serve adult leisure readers effectively you MUST remember Betty Rosenberg’s first law of reading, “Never apologize for your reading tastes,” I still encounter those who do not follow it.

Modern RA service is non-jedgemental. However, it still happens regularly that I hear a librarian disparage a patron’s choice of reading material as “trashy,” or “terrible.”

Now I could choose to view these statements as job security for me [that person needs more of my training sessions].  But, I will not lie, my heart breaks a little every time I hear this kind of talk.

Recently, I overheard someone complaining about their patrons as a whole and not being able to get them to read anything good, despite going out of their way to NOT buy the books they would enjoy and instead buy the books they SHOULD be reading.

This person was speaking near me; definitely not to me.  Well, I could not stand for this and interrupted a conversation I was not a part of [remember I don’t suffer fools].

It is 2014 people.  We are not providing the RA service  of the 1930s where the goal was to graduate readers to higher materials. We are here to help library patrons have a positive reading experience. TO make it positive we find them a book that they would enjoy based on what they already know they enjoy.  I don’t care what it is!

Now that isn’t what I said to this mystery person.  No what I said was something like, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help over hearing you, but I am concerned that you might need to rethink your collection development strategy.  You need to be identifying the books your patrons would most enjoy and buy those first and foremost.  If you want to try out different kinds of books on them to see if they will like them, you could try to ILL those books first and see how it goes before altering your purchasing decisions.”

We had a short, slightly uncomfortable conversation which continued along the lines of me politely chastising this person for making horrible leisure reading decisions and offering to continue the conversation later.

No one was rude, but I cannot stand here and call myself a RA expert and trainer and allow these things to be said right in front of me.  I am not here to make friends.  I don’t work this hard to simply keep the status quo going in a straight line.  No, I am here to make patron experiences better by training librarians to be more effective reader’s advisors, and if that means upsetting a few [wrong] people along the way, oh well.

So, when I recently saw this article on the Barnes and Noble blog entitled, “5 Reasons to Never Be Embarrassed By a Book You Love,” I realized that sadly, I needed to pass this on to librarians.

Please read it.  Think about yourself.  Think about your patrons.  Check yourself.  Are you too judgey? Are you making purchasing decisions based on what your patrons actually like to read or are you buying what you think they should read?  Are your displays featuring books your patrons love or the books you think they should be reading?

[Display note.  Our display guru John, hates culinary mysteries, but guess what, patrons love them.  It’s November...cooking and baking season.  What fantastic display did he put up this week? Yup, culinary mysteries.  People love it.  It’s adorable, eye catching, and full of wonderful reading choices.  And, the books are flying off the shelves. Yay John.]

So that’s my rant. I am sad that it needed to be said, but I feel better now that I have spoken up.  Feel free to leave a comment whether you agree or disagree.


Kristi C. said...

4200I am so with you on this. "It's not about you." is something I emphasize when doing RA training - we all have our likes and dislikes, but we are here to give patrons what THEY want, and that is one of the foundations of RA in the library.

Rebecca said...

Dude. I read V.C. Andrews. Who am I to judge? ;)

Ellen Forsyth said...

Thanks for writing this - it is still a problem area, and it shouldn't be. It is all about the reader and what they want to read.

Sabrina said...

If someone asks me for a recommendation about a genre that I'm not particularly familiar, I usually just say "this book is really popular with our readers, so you might enjoy it too." If it's a book that I KNOW the patron won't like (for example, if I have a patron who exclusively reads Christian/Inspirational Fiction, but suddenly wants to read "Fifty shades of grey" because they heard it was good), I'll give them they book, but tell them it's not like what you usually read. But yes, you are right and I admire you for creating a dialogue and offering your thoughts without causing drama!

John BPL RA said...

Thanks for the display mention! Needless to say, I agree with you. I do feel feel, however, that when it comes to ordering, libraries have a social and cultural obligation to keep certain titles in their collection regardless of popularity. I am surprised and even a little embarrassed when I go into some libraries and find that they don't carry common classics that are the cornerstones of literature. The same extends to non-fiction.