I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Monday, November 7, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- LISTEN!

The Call to Action is back after the October hiatus, and today’s post while not about the election tomorrow at all, is actually inspired by it. Today, I want to firmly remind everyone out there to LISTEN. Of course I mean as we are helping patrons, but I think it is a good reminder to all of us, for all of our interactions, with everyone we meet.

But, this is a blog about library workers helping leisure readers find materials in our buildings, so I will leave the bigger picture implications to the side for now and move into our specifics.

One of the biggest problems library workers have as they help leisure patrons look for their next good read is that we don’t actually hear what is being asked for because none of us are being active listeners.

We ask patrons to tell us about a good book they have read recently and as soon as they mention the title, our brains run off to start thinking of readalike options. We stop listening when they utter a title and don’t continue to have a CONVERSATION where we listen to the patrons explain WHY they enjoyed the book. We run off to make connection based on our version of that title, or even another patron’s [who we may have helped at a previous point in time] version. But that reader, in front of you, talking to you, has so much to teach you about their version of the book-- what it meant to them, why it was a good fit, and what else they would enjoy. When you stop actively listening at the mention of a title, you stop doing your job.

I see this happen all of the time. Someone says they liked The Girl on the Train. If you stop listening, you might run off to find this reader as many female driven psychological suspense stories as possible. But if instead, you had stopped to listen to this specific reader [as I discuss here], you will see that it is the compelling narration that the reader really enjoyed. In fact, this example reader loved that she didn’t even think about solving the mystery in the novel while she was reading it because she was having so much fun following Rachel. She even described this dark, gritty book as beautiful [again, click here for more details on this patron interaction].

Now this added information is a huge clue as to what titles the reader may also enjoy that goes much deeper into her specific reasons for enjoying the book, but I would have missed this clue if I had stopped actively listening after she uttered “The Girl on the Train,” and assumed I knew what she wanted.

How can we get better as listening during the RA Conversation? Well, I like to focus on the words the patron is using and then repeat those words back to him or her. This shows that I am understanding what he or she is saying to me. It also helps me to actively listen because I have a job to do-- repeat key words back.

Once I think I have a handle on it, I try a suggestion I am pretty sure this person has read, to gauge how I am doing.  In this case, I did NOT ask if she had read Gone Girl because that does not have a likable, unreliable narrator; Flynn's are unreliable, yes, but not likable at all.

Instead I asked if she had read Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson- another compelling, narrator driven suspense story where the narrator herself is unreliable but extremely likable. [Click here for details on that title.] She had read it and loved it.

Now you may think I just struck out there by suggestion a book she has already read, but I am here today to tell you the opposite is true. I just won big time! I gained this patron’s trust immediately because I just proved to her that I “got her.” I truly listened to her and understood why she like The Girl on the Train. Now that I had gained her trust and proved that I cared enough to listen, we were able to have a deeper conversation about what she was truly looking for in a good book. We were able to move beyond simply throwing titles back and forth and talked about what she was looking for. It turned out she was also interested in how The Girl on the Train also makes a statement about how people today get wrapped up in, even obsessed with, the tragedy of others.

So, I took all of the knowledge I gained by listening and I eventually suggested two books that are mentioned in this post, The Bones of You by Debbie Howells and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. You can click through to read more details, but the point here is that neither of these titles is one that you would normally find on the standard The Girl on the Train cookie cutter readalike lists.

Don’t get me wrong, those lists are great for passive RA or for when we are in a hurry. But when we are engaging our patrons in a face to face RA conversation, they deserve more. We need to listen.

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