As I mentioned in this Call to Action, I am very focused on trying to get people to shake up their CE experiences and be more active in how and where they get their training.
In order to support this mission I will continue to post on the topic with further CE rethink ideas. I am even offering two programs on the topic for my state library association’s annual conference this October.
Today’s CE Rethink is inspired by a former patron, now friend, Phyllis. Back in June 2017, she attended the pre-ALA Publishers Book Buzz hosted for free at the Chicago Public Library. [I posted a recap of that event here.] She had heard about the event from me and simply signed up as a reader.
She went to the entire day which was kids books in the morning and adult in the afternoon. I was only there in the PM. Once, when we were out to lunch together she mentioned that in the morning session people were introducing themselves to each other and when they got to her she said, “I am Phyllis and I am a reader.” They asked her, “But what library do you work at?” and she said, “None. I am here as a reader."
Now to be fair, Phyllis is a library champion. She has been on the library board and has been the President of the Friends of the Library and is a retired Community College Dean, so she knows her library stuff more than the average “reader."
However, that day she was simply there because she loves books and relished the opportunity to spend a day hearing about new books.
Here’s the thing though. Once the fact that she was simply a reader was established, she became the person everyone wanted to talk to. She was surprised at how many questions all the liberians had for her and how interested they were in why she was there, what she likes to read, how she finds book suggestions, etc.... While it was fun to be asked all these questions by librarians, Phyllis rightfully noticed that she was probably getting bombarded because the librarians spent all of their time answering patrons’ specific reading questions, but they never had the chance to question the readers themselves about the things the librarians want to know.
She suggested to me that I think about ways to encourage more library workers to talk to readers outside of the library transaction. Since we were having lunch together at the time, and we try to meet every couple of months for lunch to catch up and chat about books, she suggested that library workers get out from behind the desk and go to lunch with a patron.
Well, my first response and one you are all thinking right now also was-- “Um, so that would not be good idea with most patrons.” But, I also thought in theory, what she was saying was a very good idea. I told her I would think about it because it also goes back to one of the biggest complaints I hear from library workers about RA service-- they don’t get enough feedback.
What Phyllis was providing to the library workers she encountered was a chance at feedback. She was a reader in the wild, but one who put herself into the librarians’ world and they pounced. There really is much we want to know about “readers” in general and not just the things that are tied to a specific request. And many of them would love to have the chance to answer these questions.
So after chewing on this for awhile, I think I have an idea that could work. Why not host an event where we invite our readers to come and answer our questions?
One of my new mantra that I am pushing here on the blog and in my in person presentations is that we need to find ways to make our services more interactive for our patrons. I even have a tag for it here on the blog-- Interactive RA. When patrons fell like they are a part of their library experience, they are happier with that service.
The first time I ask a patron to tell me about a book they are reading, they are shocked that I care. Then after a few times, they start offering information as soon as they walk in without me asking.
But here’s the thing, that’s just a few of our patrons. We know what our power users are reading and how they fell about the books they like, but what about all the people who never stop to talk to us, from whom we get no feedback.
Why not try to ask them?
We do blind date with a book displays? We do programs with book discussion groups where we invite them to talk about what they are reading and then give them more ideas. This is very similar.
I suggest you do this near summer reading signup time-- which is very soon. As part of your Adult Summer Reading Programming, shake things up and have a program where you invite them in to a room to let you ask them about what they like to read and why?
Offer food, bookish conversation, and a place for book lovers simply to gather and discuss what they are reading. This would be a great on going program too. Offering space for readers to connect with each other is a great idea, but also you, the library worker, are there to get the feedback you want.
It’s almost like creating a teen advisory group but for adults and where you get to pick their brains about the books they are reading, what they think of your displays, what kind of books they are looking for, etc.....
But that would be the ultimate goal, an ongoing program. You need to start first with having a “date” with your readers. Find a way to get yourself in a position to ask your patrons the questions you have been wanting to ask them. Don’t wait for them to give you feedback.
Go to them. Seriously, they are going to be so happy you asked. Make it clear that you want to know because it will improve everyone’s library experience. They will be so happy you asked and feel so good about playing a part in the success of the entire organization. But do it through conversation, not an impersonal survey. Make it part of you regular RA Service. Once you start asking for feedback, they will get used to giving it and you won’t be able to stop them. [Then there will be a new problem I need to solve.]
Make time for them. They are already making time for you.
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