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Monday, May 8, 2017

Call to Action: Help Improve RA Service By Proactively Battling Library Anxiety

One of the things I bring up in all of my basic RA training sessions is that Library Anxiety is a real thing. Even regular patrons feel it.

In the public library RA setting I most often see patrons afraid to take a book because they are afraid if they don’t like it, we will be upset. Even worse, they are afraid to not finish it if they are not enjoying it for the same reason.

Now this doesn’t happen with every patron, but it happens enough that I want to call you all to action to be proactive in attacking Library Anxiety head on as part of the RA transaction.

Let me explain and show you how easy it is.

Often, as we suggest books to patrons, they are reluctant to take them. In my experience much of this stems from fear in disappointing us. Over the years, as I hand sold books to patrons, I added a few new talking points to my repertoire that have helped them to not feel any pressure.

You would be surprised but people are most relieved to hear this: “If you don’t like it after 50 pages or so, feel free to close the book and bring it back. You don’t even have to tell me. We have no way of knowing if you finished the book or not.”

This always gets a nervous giggle because although they know this is true in their brains, patrons are not sure 100% that with our librarian super sense if we can find a way to know that. Letting the patrons know up front that we don’t care if they finish the books we give them is a huge relief, and it often is the difference between them taking a book [or 2] or not.

Sometimes, I elaborate further by saying: “It’s no offense to me if you don’t like the book. I didn’t write it.”

Whether or not I add that last line I always follow up this part of the conversation by reiterating that my only concern is to find you a book you will enjoy. And with all the books we have here, I am committed to matching you with the ones that are right for you. That is my only concern. So if you don’t like the book you are given, we need to get right back to work trying a different one.

In other words, the failure to connect is no one’s fault. It is a process. It is a journey we go on together. It is not a struggle. It should not be something that involves any discomfort. It is leaguer reading, not brain surgery.

This takes just a few seconds extra during the RA transaction, but it goes a long way toward showing them that the library is there to help based on what they want and need. If you answer this call to action, you are a library superhero, helping to battle all library anxiety in every setting, one patron at a time. You will increase every patron’s enjoyment of their library experience, no matter the library or person helping them.

To this day, a long time patron still regularly tells me that the greatest thing I ever did for her was to “allow" her to give up on books she didn’t enjoy with having guilt. She gushes about it all the time. She spreads the word to other readers too. Already a voracious reader, she now gets even more enjoyment from her books because she has been freed to stop reading. She also has been much more adventurous in what she will try too. She tells her friends how much fun she has had trying “steampunk." [She liked 1, but not the other that she tried] She is so proud and happy, and all I did was let her know it was okay to only read the books that she wanted to read when she wanted to read them.

I know we know we make a difference in our patrons’ lives all the time, but this is one place where I never knew we had such impact. So, I am passing it on and asking you all to try it out.

Another wonderful outcome of being proactive about the fact that the patrons may not enjoy the book you just gave them is that is serves to humanize you in their eyes.  The patrons now see you as just another book lover/reader who is just trying to help them find a great read. No longer are you the expert, telling them that they will like this book and if they don’t it is their fault not yours.

I know this sounds extreme, but even if you are super nice and polite, you are still the library worker giving out the books and patrons feel this way even if they aren’t conscious of the feeling.

So, get out their and keep reminding patrons that the library is a place where their needs come first and there is no reason to be scared of us. RA Service is the best place to battle Library Anxiety and it will improve your patrons’ library experience.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

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