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Monday, February 6, 2017

RA for All: Call to Action-- Make Your Own Best "Seller “ Lists

Readers of this blog know that at the end of 2016 I was focusing on challenging the perceived notion of what is “best” in a series of webinars and posts which you can pull up here. But for new readers here is a quick synopsis of that argument from my notes for the PLA Webinar I delivered on the topic:
We are going to rethink the entire concept of BEST lists are and repurpose them as sure bets lists. And we are going to get EVERYONE in on the action. Do not underestimate how much fun it is for staff from all over the building, public service and behind the scenes, professional librarians, clerk, HR people, AND PATRONS to share what they love with everyone. And don’t underestimate how useful collecting these “best” books is for you as you help leisure readers all the year through, 
That is from the intro to my hour long talk on how to crowdsource and collect your library’s “best” lists. During that webinar, one of the tips that I gave very quickly has stuck with me and I wanted to elaborate on it today because I think it is not only easy to do, but it could become one of your best RA  and marketing tools.


I was reminded of this suggestion last week when the New York Times announced that it was going to get rid of a number of their more specific best seller lists. Like many of you I loved those lists. I was able to get an idea of well received titles in a variety of less popular genres and formats like graphic novels.

But this is not a post to complain about The NYT cutting bestseller lists. No, I am not about complaining, I am about offering solutions.

Which leads me back to today's call-- CREATE YOUR LIBRARY’S HYPER-LOCAL BESTSELLER LIST.

The NYT lists were great but they are national and very limited in scope. What you need to help you figure out what is most popular at your library is a variety of best seller list, and I suggest you use the way the NYT used to do it as your model. Plus, it is very easy to do AND it is great way to engage some of your nonprofessional staff in doing next level RA.

Let me explain. By now every public library has some kind of ILS that can easily be mined for useful circulation data. Running reports on materials is something that is done regularly by most public libraries. But generally these reports are run by the tech services and or circ staff for very specific purposes: missing reports, overdue materials, billed, clearing the hold shelf, identifying titles for potential weeding, etc....

But, we could just as easily be running reports on more positive things like the items that are most checked out, or as we need to rebrand them as-- THE LIBRARY’S BEST SELLERS LIST!

Patrons know what best sellers lists are; they already use them to help identify potential books to read. Best sellers are implicitly deemed as “good” by patrons because why else would they be best sellers? I know this logic is not always true, but it is how people think and we need to use that to our advantage.

So, let’s make our own lists about what is “best selling” at the library, especially now that the news is saying there will be fewer best seller lists available. Jump in and fill the void, even if that void is only a perceived one and not an actual one [because seriously, how many patrons actually looked at all of those lists online; we did, sure, but mostly they were used by us and the publishers for marketing purposes, so they could call something a "NYT Best Seller.”] And we can make as many as we want by running quick and easy weekly/monthly reports using our ILS.

Here are some easy to pull up lists in most ILS:

  • General Best Sellers-- most checkout out of the week overall or broken down by each service area; so Adult, teen, kids, fiction, nonfiction.
  • Format Best Sellers-- most checked out videos, audio books, streamed, download, Large Print.
  • Genre Best Sellers-- as long as you have the genre noted somewhere in the item record be it in a subject heading or in it’s own field, you can easily do this.
  • Want to promote the non-traditional things you check out like technology items [Go Pro cameras, Rokus] or maker items like sewing machine, art kits; some libraries do fishing poles and art. Whatever. Do a Best Seller lists of unexpected items. People might not even know that you have them.
  • And my favorite.... Make some Backlist Best Seller Lists. For example, the most popular adult items checked out this week which were published before 2000. Or whatever your parameters. These are great to remind people that it is not only the newest 3 James Patterson books that are being checked out.

Who cares that there is no “selling” here. Don’t say most checked-out. Patrons know you are not selling the books, but calling the most checked out titles “Best Sellers” lends them more cache, it makes them cooler, and makes the library seem more like the rest of the book world.

Post them in the building and online. Change them out weekly or monthly, but change them regularly. Post them next to other, more well known best seller lists on one bulletin board. Put them at the applicable service desks. Hey, even put them at a desk that isn’t for those items, like the adult Best Seller list at the children’s desk so busy parents can get some popular reading ideas for themselves quickly.

You will draw interest not only to titles that may not make the more traditional best seller lists, but you will be engaging the community by allowing them to see what is most popular without sacrificing anyone’s identity or personal information. When people see what is popular in their library, you will be providing the content for opening lines in conversation amongst people in the community. And isn’t that one of our main goals-- engaging the community.

From a selfish standpoint, collecting and creating these lists will serve you well too. You will have a frequent snapshot of what is circulating the most which means you can work on more targeted displays and “while you wait” lists to help patrons. And if you do collection development too-- you will have more helpful information as you work of adding and deleting items.

Plus, the marketing potential is enormous. People will see how much you actually provide for them, especially if you make a variety of lists. Who cares if number 10 on one of your best seller lists only circulated 1x that week or month? No one needs to know the details. They just need to know that you have it and people have wanted it.

Finally, pulling the reports and sorting through the data to create these lists is a great way to engage staff who don’t normally get to work with leisure readers in person, like tech services. They can now be a part of a vital RA activity that actively assists patrons. They will also be more cognizant of what needs to be included in bibliographic records; for example, diverse books information or specific genres that are popular and are not tagged.

You can also have non-professional staff who want to do more to help readers, but still need more training and experience work on this activity. May be they can’t run the reports, but they can use the data to update lists, make signs and displays of the lists, and then use them to provide suggestions. It will help to create a RA culture throughout the library.

So get out there and start creating you library’s “Best Seller” Lists.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

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