I am not exaggerating when I tell that you after reading that email I was literally shaking with rage.
WHY ARE THEY OUT THERE PROMOTING THIS BETTER THAN US!
It was a Call to Action moment if I ever saw one. Here's why I am upset at us-- not them-- for not being on top of this and why WE should be the ones making holiday gift guides to help our patrons find the perfect gift for their loved ones.
First of all, let's start with the obvious. Publisher suggestions for the perfect gift are inherently biased. They can only suggest books they have published. At the library, we collect books based on their contents, not based on who published it. We can suggest anything.
Second, BACKLIST. I know I talk about it a lot here on the blog, but the backlist is truly the library's BFF. We know about and have in stock all the older, great titles out there. The ones that are winners year after year. The publishers are mostly suggesting books that are new to hardcover or paperback. So we are talking 1-3 years old for the majority. That is extremely limiting from a gift giving perspective.
Third, last time I checked, library workers help with more than just books. We help patrons with DVDs, audiobooks, downloadables, etc... Many of us also check out items like Roku, GoPro cameras, iPads, etc.... I spent hours each holiday shopping season helping multiple patrons navigate the process of buying [for themselves or others] an eReader or tablet. I was using my advisory skills to ask them questions and help them identify which of these tech products was best for them, gave them pro and con lists, and sample questions to ask the sales people. But in general, all of us who work at the public library can help our patrons find the best gift for those on their lists beyond just books.
Fourth, we know our communities. Back to books now, because it is unfair to fault the book publishers for only knowing about books. The publishers know the national trends. They have entire teams of people looking at these. But we know our communities. We know what books work best with them. We are the local book experts. No matter how many numbers the publisher's trends people crunch, we will always have a better handle on our local readers and their needs-- even if our patrons don't realize it.
Fifth, as I alluded to in number 4, we can use a library created gift guide to promote how awesome we are to our patrons. It will remind them not only that do we care about their needs [finding the perfect gifts for loved ones], but also that we are the best people to ask about the items we check out at the library. We know and understand the products and how our community members use them better than anyone else in the area. Let's shout it from the rooftops with a gift guide people.
Sixth, you as the main RA person do not need to go at this gift guide stuff alone. You have an entire staff, no matter which department they work in, to help you. At the very least, send out an email asking staff to share their favorite book they read this year, no matter the year in which it was published. Also, you can ask people to share which books they are buying for the people in their lives. All of that information can be used to create a whole library gift guide, AND it is a great team building exercise. Do not underestimate how much people want to help, or how good it makes who don't normally get to field these types of questions.
Seventh, patrons can "test drive" their potential gift by checking it out of the library. This is a perk only library's can provide.
Finally, a holiday gift guide published by the library is a wonderful way to organize your hyper local "best list." Include the most checked out books both new and backlist in all formats and age ranges. Have a recap of genre and major award winners. Use the information you gathered from staff as mentioned above, and include trends and hot topics that came up over the past year- like diverse books. It is a great way to compile all of that "year end" information you are already gathering in one place that is both easy to retrieve when you need to use it and promotes yourself to the community. And find a way to allow for patrons to submit their own items to the gift guide whether it's as a comment to an online guide or a hand written suggestion.
And as a bonus, if you do a gift guide every year, you can use past year's gift guides to help patron's every holiday and all year long. They become library sure bets lists! The library produced gift guide is literally the gift that keeps on giving, to patrons and staff, all the year through.
To inspire you to create your library's holiday gift guide, here are the links to a few examples:
- Skokie [IL] Public Library- 2016 Gift Guide
- Oakland [CA] Public Library- 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide
- Westerville [OH] Public Library-- 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide
- Readers' Scene Holiday Gift Ideas Live Event from the Kansas City [MO] Public Library. Event is over, but it was like a live library gift guide and the handout is here.
For the Call to Action Archive click here.