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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

RA Service Assessment: Step 3-- Providing RA to Each Other

It’s time for another RA Service Assessment post.

You can access the entire series through the page I have set up entitled “RA Service Assessment.” Ahhh yes, an obvious name, and it is in the right gutter of every page on the blog, but my goal is to help you help patrons better, so making it easy is key.

In the past two posts I have talked about you and your staff assessing your own personal reading and how to assess your staff and patron service strengths.

If you have completed those steps you now have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses as a staff. Now, your instinct is going to be to attack the weak areas, such as gaps in genre knowledge among staff vs. patron interest.  However, while we will get to that, jumping right to genre training will not improve your services as much as you think.

First, you need to start small and build confidence.  You need to start practicing suggesting books to others without stress or consequence. You need to allow staff to feel good about committing to your leisure readers by providing early positive experiences for them.

Let me explain what I mean, and then I will explain why I believe this step needs to be BEFORE genre training.

If you had your staff do  Step 1-- Assess Your Own Reading Preferences you have a sheet for each staff member where they have listed their favorite and least favorite books and genres. [Ed note: I updated that post from a survey to a paper form earlier today.]

Now, you take these reader profiles, mix them up, and hand them back out so that each participating staff member gets the profile of another staff member.  You can either do this blindly or, as I prefer, by passing them out in a way that matches up people from different departments who may not know each other very well.  This “interference” adds an extra team building benefit to the exercise.

But no matter how you distribute the profiles, you now have given each staff member a “patron” to practice their RA skills on. That patron being a co-worker who is also committed to the RA improvement process because he or she has chosen to participate with their own profile.

This last point is key.  Unlike other training exercises where people are roped into participating. Here, if you filled out a profile yourself, you are invested in getting a reply for yourself. This makes you more willing to help provide a reply to your fellow coworker.  The give and get here is equivalent. Everyone is doing both sides of the exercise in equal measure. That is one of the reasons this process works.

Set goals for the staff.  I suggest that you give each person 2 weeks to use the staff profile they have received to provide a list of three reading suggestions to that person.

Then, once a staff member has received their 3 personalized reading suggestions, he or she must read at least 1 title and report back to the suggesting staff member as to whether or not the book was enjoyed and why within a month.

Each person has suggested three books to a coworker and each person has received three suggested reads. Now everyone has a personalized suggestion to try.

I have seen this training work dozens of times with students and library staff. By engaging in this exercise what you have done is created a safe practice environment where staff can take their time and help out a coworker. Whether they get their suggestions right or wrong, because it is a fellow staff member, they will get feedback on the process.

Even experts like me do not nail every suggestion to every patron.  But whether or not the patron likes the suggested book is not as important as getting feedback as to WHAT was liked or disliked.  This feedback is often missing when we work with patrons (although how to solicit patron feedback will be a later RA Assessment topic). It is by having a full RA Conversation that our skills improve and our patrons are happier.

So use my Staff Reader Profile form to get started on Step 3 of you RA Service Assessment journey.

Now quickly, back to my promised discussion of why you should do this step BEFORE genre training.  I feel very strongly about building confidence in the idea of recommending leisure reading first.  People who work in libraries love books and reading. I have seen staff who think they have no idea how to provide RA use their instincts to make great RA suggestions.  Why? Because they love books and reading. The power of this instinct cannot be overlooked or underestimated.  In fact, by doing this exercise first and genre training after, you are celebrating your staff’s implicit book knowledge.

Just like we try to make library signage positive [eg, cell phone friendly floors vs. NO CELLPHONES signs], I want to make the RA experience positive for staff.  It is scary the first few times you are suggesting a “good read” to someone. This exercise allows a more positive “first time” experience.

So before we start pointing out the staff’s faults and training them on everything they don’t know, why not start with what they do? They know books. Let everyone try to suggest one to a coworker.

That being said, genre training will be needed and I will have a few posts on genre training coming in steps 5 and 6. But for now....get out their and provide RA to each other;.

I have at least five more steps in the works, so look for more RA Service Assessment posts soon. The good news is, with all of the steps on one page, you can access them at your own pace.

And if you want me to help walk you through the steps or inspire you and your staff to get started, I am booking appearances for 2016 now. 2015 is closed except for [very] select local appearances.
Click here for details on how to contact me.


Abby said...

Becky, this is so smart. I have been wanting to do something with my staff to practice RA transactions on each other and you have given me the tools to do it. Thank you for sharing this! I will be trying it soon. :)

Becky said...

Abby, please let me know how it goes. I am happy to help.