Okay, not the crazy patron, the one who thinks the aliens are out to get her or the one who will only read books which prominently feature cats. But, that patron you have worked with for awhile now. The one who comes back regularly to talk to you about the books you have suggested. The one who has begun to trust you implicitly. The one who when you read reviews of upcoming books, you automatically put a book on hold for her.
Why should you take a suggest from that patron? Well, there are a few reasons:
- It encourages feedback. One of the biggest requests I get from library workers who begin focusing on RA is how they can solicit more feedback. How are they doing? What would patrons prefer? Things like that. Well by asking regular patrons to suggest a book to you, then you read it, and finally give them feedback on how they did, you are encouraging them to give you feedback. Model the behavior you want to see and watch the feedback start to come in [at east at a trickle].
- It allows you to better understand what this patron likes. When you read a book a patron enjoyed and wants you to try, you get to hear them talk about what they liked about it when they are hand selling it to you and then read it to see what is actually between the pages. Since every person reads a different version of the same book, you are able to read it for yourself AND compare it to what they saw. You will have a much deeper understanding of how this patron reads, yes, but you will also have a better understanding of that key concept of every person reading a different version of the same book because you will have seen it happen in real time. I am always amazed by how cool this learning outcome is when I have done this with patrons.
- It enhances your relationship with your regulars. RA Service allows you to get to know patrons fairly intimately. When you are helping people with what they want to read in their "downtime" over a period of time, you begin to learn a lot about their personal lives. You can't know how to help them find books for their free time if you don't understand what they expect from that free time. But too often patrons want to start getting closer to us personally as we help them more and get to know them more. That can be awkward. Reading a book that patrons suggests to you, is an easy way to show them that the relationship is a two way street without you having to get more uncomfortably person with them. Trust me. It is a huge way to get more personal without sharing personal details.
- But the final reason, the one that is the most rejuvenating and fun is that you get the chance to have someone who has gotten to know you and your reading tastes help you find a book you might not have found for yourself. You get to experience some of that pure joy of someone finding you a good read. And with the hot, crowded summer days in the library, I promise you this one fun moment will go a long way toward helping you keep your sanity.
For the record, I used to do this regularly. I wouldn’t tell the patrons I was doing it, but I kept a running list of books patrons suggested to me-- both the bibliographic info and who suggested it. Then about 3 times a year I would pull up the spreadsheet and pick a book I would have never read on my own and give it a try.
I had mixed results. Mostly I would choose books in genres with which I had less familiarity, so I had a hard SF patron, a romance one, and a hardboiled detective guy. I read the books they had suggested to me over the years and while I did not LOVE any of them, I learned a lot about those genres and why these specific patrons enjoyed them so much. I was able to broaden my knowledge in a fun way and build a deeper relationship with those hard core patrons.
One of my biggest success stories was way back at the beginning of my career when a lady from book club told me to read Seabiscuit. I said, no thank you, I know all about it and have been suggesting it to many patrons, but I don’t like horse books. And she said to me, “I hate horse books and I loved this one. It’s only partially about the horse. It’s really about America at the time.”
Well, I listened to her, and she was right. As a former American Studies major who loves looking at history with a broad lens, I LOVED Seabiscuit. By reading it, I also saw an entire new audience to whom I could suggest this book. I got to read a good book, learned something, and strengthened my relationship with that patron. Everybody won!
So get out there and give it a try for yourself. You might learn something, have fun, or both!
For past Call to Action posts, click here.