I am working on my annual Year in Review presentation where I recap the year that was in RA Service and Adult Leisure Reading. That presentation is on January 27th. Details are here.
One of the big problems in 2020 [among many] was rethinking book discovery in a social distant environment. I have an entire slide on this issue and have offered suggestions throughout the year on this blog. However, as I was looking through past posts, I realized there was something I have been saying in presentations but never posted about. Today is about rectifying that.
When you provide curbside delivery of requested items, you need to think about more than the transaction in front of you. Think about their next visit. Think about helping them find something else to put on hold. Think about promoting more titles and services. Think about their overall library experience. Or as I like to put it more succinctly, think of your curbside patrons as a captive audience!
Look passive RA is the idea that you are providing avenues for discovery and reading options without the patron engaging you directly. Think displays, lists, shelf talkers, etc.... In the before times, when our buildings were open, we all had tried and true ways to do this; many things we did without thinking because they were working.
And then....everything changed.
Obviously, early in the pandemic our concerns were very immediately-- how to increase our access to digital materials, how to keep providing services, how to be safe. But once people got curbside going and figured out their quarantine procedures, a few started upping their game when it came to passive RA.
The most common of these has been the "surprise bag." Many libraries are doing this for adults and children. The patron fills out a basic RA preferences form and the staff grab a bag full of books. With fines obliterated by most libraries because of the pandemic [temporarily, although I will have a post on that issue later this week], this was easy to do and lots of patrons loved it. Also, people can't browse in person, so this allows them to browse at home. It's been great way for libraries to boost circ stats during closures, yes, but it is also recreating a bit of the fun and serendipity of a trip to the library for leisure readers, a way to recapture a bit of joy of the in person experience from a safe distance.
But here's the real talk. Your curbside patrons are not only your most committed and engaged users but they are also A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE. We should be focusing our passive RA, heck, all of our promotion, on them. Here are some very easy to implement actions you can use to engage your curbside patrons. Some are very simple, others a bit more complicated, but all can be done easily as long as the entire staff is working together:
- Add a list to every package. You can have general list of new materials for the interest areas covered by the books in the package or genre specific. Or just general lists of books that are on display in the building. Just something to let them know of other titles.
- Make these lists in a bookmark format and have a place where people can check any titles they want placed on hold. They can write in their info so you can place the holds for them when they return their curbside items.
- Place a comment card in each book. Make an index card size form asking patrons to review the book. You can mass produce these to be easily stuck into the book. Just ask for name, card number, a star rating [give them stars to fill in] and 2 sentences about what they thought. If only 1% of your curbside people return these, you have enough titles to make a "Patrons Recommend" list online and a physical display in the building. Also, the practical information you get back about helping that specific reader is invaluable. If they include their card number you can put books on hold for them. [I would add a check box to say they are okay with that.]
- Make fun conversation starter cards. Create a stock of various questions printed on quarter sheets of paper and leave room for answers. Crowdsource the entire staff to come up with fun, open ended questions. The team building opportunity alone on this endeavor is worth the work, but then you can also use the answers to create more resources to help others. You can even use the conversation starter prompt as the title of a future list or display. Ideas to get you started:
- What is your favorite type of book?
- What is your least favorite type of book?
- What book do you recommend to everyone you know?
- If you had to start your personal library from scratch, what is the first book you would buy?
- What is your go-to bookish gift?
- Where do you get book recommendations for yourself [other than the library]?
- If you could only read 5 books ever again, which 5 would you choose?
- Promote your other services, especially virtual programming and book discussion meeting. If you have an email service to let people know that their curbside is in, these virtual events are best shared in that format as links can be included.
- And speaking of emails/texts to alert patrons that their curbside is in, you can also use that to share any of the items listed above.
There are three morals here. The first is the one I have been repeating: take advantage of the captive audience of curbside patrons and use it to up your RA game. The second is slightly more subtle and more about your staff. Curbside is hard on the staff running the service. As a Trustee I have been kept in the loop about the entire process. Our frontline staff are working very hard to sort, quarantine, pull, and fill orders. Like a lot of you, they are doing this while we are also opened for limited in person library service.
Now, to ask them to also provide lists and conversation starters is too much. These are activities the rest of the staff can work on, both creating and compiling. This will help bring the staff together around serving patrons and help us all to make curbside more fun and personalized, something we are all feel is lacking now that this socially distant service has dragged on.
And third, you need to understand that we are going to have to keep doing this forever now. Even without a pandemic, people are now used to curbside and are not going to let you shelve it [pun intended]. If you could do it during a health emergency, you can do it all the time-- so they will think. Obviously it gets much harder if we are at full capacity, but I would argue that it helps your RA service and circulation numbers to keep curbside going, especially if you are checking out those surprise bags which up the circ stats from 1-2 books per visit to 4-5.
Right now we all need more chances to reconnect with each other in a way that is more meaningful than just the transaction itseld, and a captive audience is a great way to recapture some of what we have lost.
If you already do some of these [or other] passive RA services through curbside and want to share your experiences with my readers, let me know.
And see some of you at my presentation on the 27th. Slides will be available for everyone that day.