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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Updated Ten Rules of Basic RA- Now Including Practice Tips

I love getting into libraries and delivering my trademark RA for All talk. It is the first training I ever created, and while I still use some of the same exercises I used on day 1, the talk itself is always different, but not just because each library has specific needs that I make sure to address. My training has also evolved over time, keeping pace with trends and shifts in practice.

At it’s core, the program is a pep talk aimed at any and all library staff who would ever engage a patron in conversation about a leisure “reading” option.  

[By the way by reading I always mean any content they would check out of the library in any format for “fun”-- not for an assignment. It is much easier to say reading here rather than “reading, watching, listening, etc...”]

I provide the basic tools one would need to provide RA service as well as inspire staff to take some risks and start engaging each other [at first] and patrons [later] in conversations about leisure reading.

I base the entire training off of my publicly proclaimed Ten Rules of Basic RA Service. But those ten rules are not static. In fact, earlier this month, in preparation for a new round of upcoming presentations, I gave the list a major overhaul. 

One of the biggest changes I incorporated was a brand new Rule 10: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

Last summer, I started leaving every appearance by giving the staff a reader profile exercise to keep the training going after I leave.  You can click here to read more about that specific exercise.

But in the months since, I have heard back from staff who are now looking to take their skills up from level 101 to 201. The staff reader profile exercise is a great introduction because you have lots of time and unlimited access to the “patron” you are assisting [since they are your coworker], but in the real world of helping leisure reading patrons, you often only have the chance to get a few soundbites of information out of them before you are expected to turn around and immediately offer reading suggestions.

I know that last sentence made on-the-fly RA service sound a bit stressful. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge this. But like anything, with practice, you get better. But how can you recreate this more realistic experience in a practice mode? Easy. There is a perfect tool just waiting for you over at Book Riot.

The Get Booked podcast is your perfect RA practice tool. Get Booked is a weekly show of customized book recommendations. People write in, tell the hosts what kind of books they like and/or what they are looking to read next, and then the hosts suggest titles. You can listen to any episode by visiting this link, although I am partial to the one where I was a guest host.

Listening to Get Booked is a great way to see the rage of reading tastes that are out there, and simply passively listening to the hosts come up with suggestions and hear their “why” statements is useful. But you can also use Get Booked as an active training tool.

Here’s how you do it:
  1. Play the podcast and listen to the first query.
  2. Write down what the reader is looking for.
  3. Hit pause BEFORE the hosts give suggestions.
  4. Use your favorite RA tools to identify some suggestions and include notes as to why you chose the titles you did,
  5. Listen to what the hosts suggested.
  6. Compare not only the titles, but the “whys.”
  7. Repeat for the rest of the episode
In this active practice mode, you are not only providing RA in a simulated real time atmosphere, but you are also able to compare your ideas and suggestion with 2 other people, immediately.  Yes, this practice technique does not provide a way for you to speak to the “patron” after the fact to find out if your suggestions were okay, but it does simulate the “ask and answer” time frame that you would experience at the service desk and provides you with two other perspectives to compare your notes with. 

I plan on adding even more practice exercises to Rule 10, so you should continue to check back frequently. If you haven’t checked the Ten Rules page recently, head on over and see for yourself. I will be debuting the newest version of my RA for All talk for a coalition of WI libraries on February 25th. Contact me if you are interested in bringing me to your library.

In the meantime, start practicing.

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