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.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Call to Action: Ask Patrons What They Didn't Find and Then Actually Listen To Their Answers

One of the biggest changes in RA Service from when I began until now is that we have gone from it being a transactional service like reference-- where we only worry about being asked for a title suggestion and then giving it-- to a conversation based service-- where we create a culture where books and reading are discussed, titles are shared both by staff and patrons, and ultimately books are discovered through the overall experience.

To that end, I have posted a variety of conversation starters here on the blog. These are ideas to spark conversations about books in our libraries-- both our in buildings and online.

We spend a lot of time creating conversations around the books we have. We try to book talk under the radar titles, we ask patrons to share books they have liked, or even the ones they have tried and did not enjoy. All in order to learn about how our collections are working for our patrons.

However, one thing we do not do explicitly ask them bout is what we don't have. Things they wish we did, but don't. In the wake of spending so much time thinking and talking about how we provide Reader Focused Collection Development one of the questions that kept coming up is how do we craft collections for those who don't use our libraries. How do we know what they want so that we can have it for them? So we can get them to come and use it. So that we can be for everyone, not just our regulars.

Now there is no easy answer to this question, but I think the key to starting this conversation is encapsulated in this tweet from a librarian in SC from back in April. [I am using it with her permission.]

Click here for original Tweet
Since we cannot figure out the best way to bring non users in to our buildings, if we begin by asking those who do come what they wanted but didn't find, we can start to see what we are NOT providing for everyone.

Our users already love and appreciate us. Yes, they ask for us to purchase specific things they want, but often these are new items or something on a topic or genre that is new to them. However, this larger question, which isn't about a specific title or item, just to ask them what they wanted but they couldn't;t find, this is a great way for us to start to get to the root of where we are not meeting our community's needs.

Now, as I said above, there is no easy answer to this question of how do we craft collections for the the people who aren't coming in, but I think asking our users where there are gaps in our collections, that is a great place to begin delving into this important topic.

So take Andria's advice and instead of asking if they found everything they NEEDED today, change it up and ask if there was anything they WANTED that they couldn't find. And then, here is the most important part....

....Listen to their answers. Take note of them. No matter how pie in the sky or completely undoable they seem.

Within those answers, be they super practical or way too expensive or anything in between, those answers hold the key to making our collections and services better. We have to be able to listen to what we don't have without freaking out that we already do too much and we can't be everything to everybody.

I am not saying we have to do everything our patrons ask. Rather, what I am saying is we can learn a lot more from our patrons and their needs [especially about our collections] when we ask the right questions, listen, and really ponder where the gaps are. And especially if we look at a variety of different answers to this question, put them together, and see where the commonality is. 

For example, I have a friend at a large library near me whose World Languages collection is exploding, and yet many people still don't even know they have it and keep asking why they don't have one. She realized it would probably be doing even better if they moved it from the back corner, to right up front. This would both raise its physical visibility and it will also give her room to grow it with more accurate data on who actually wants it.

That is just one small example. No matter where you work, try asking what patrons couldn't find and see what happens. Just asking them will make your patrons happy, but when you listen and take note, you have the chance to make a well reasoned change for the better too.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

1 comment:

Montano said...

What a great reframing! I just sent this link to my staff.