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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Meet Omaha Public Library’s Well-Read Collective An Example That Working Together Is Your Best Resource

I have been giving my signature RA for All training for over 10 years now, but every single time I present this talk it is different. Yes, some of the examples have stayed the same and the basic principles have not changed, but if I go back and compare the first time I gave this talk and the most recent one you might not even recognize them as the same training.

I use my 10 Basic Rules of RA Service as the broad outline for this introduction to the principles and basic actions of providing service to leisure readers. When I update this page and the rules, I always note that date in the page title, so long time readers can see that there is something new.

Recently, I made some major updates. Once was this:
8. Working together is your MOST valuable resource
     --both across whole staff and with other libraries
In the talk I lead up to this rule slowly, mentioning and developing the idea so that by the time we get to it, the audience is nodding along.

The basic principle is that you can use the concept compound interest to have access to more information about more books. If I read 10 books this year, and Jenny reads 20 and Bill reads 15 and Jose reads 30, and we all record something that isn’t plot based [I argue at least three adjectives] about those books, I may have only read 10 books but I have access to 75 “read” books.

Now I can use everyone’s reading to help my patrons. By working together, I have exposed myself to many more books, books I would never have the time to read myself. Plus, when we share with each other, we learn which staff members like which kind of books. Jenny may work in Youth Services but turns out, her favorite personal reads are contemporary erotica [this is based on my experience that more YS librarians than you think love this subgenre, you just don’t know about it because they can’t suggest them at the desk]. When we know who likes what, we can use each staff member as a resource for those types of books.

If we work together, we learn who the staff exerts are for different types of books. Yes, this means we know who to send readers with a similar taste, but if we treat this institutional knowledge like a resource and put it somewhere in the cloud [Goodreads, website, etc...], we can help these readers even when that staff member if off.

Don’t underestimate how important this is to your institution beyond just helping readers. First, the feeling of being part of team is enhanced by all parties when we use each other as a resource. Team building is always good for any staff. Second, it reinforces to the patrons that the library works as a team and they can expect the same level of excellent service from all staff members.

My 8th rule also mentions working with other libraries. This is especially important in more rural areas where the libraries themselves only have a few staff members. The compound interest of combining 3 people’s reading is not as helpful as when the staff is larger. But, you can virtually share across libraries. I use the Missouri Book Challenge as my favorite example of that regional sharing.

But here is a secret. All library staff, everywhere, who share their reading online can help anyone else with internet access anywhere. Today I wanted to highlight one of the better examples of staff sharing their reading preferences from a library I have visited-- The Omaha Public Library’s Well-Read Collective:

Click through and see what they have for yourself. You don’t have to live in Omaha to use their lists as a resource. You an even go into their catalog and see the comments from the library workers, comments which focus on the appeal of the book because the plot is right there in the catalog record.

What I love about the Well-Read Collective is that it is a program that focuses on helping people both in the building and online. It is also accessible through their website, but the comments by the library workers are also in the catalog. They are helping readers and each other by working together in as many places and from as many access points as possible. And, since OPL is a library with a solid budget and a large staff, they have the resources to help every single one of us.

There are many examples of this type of sharing, both formal like this and more informal like with shared Goodreads shelves, but the overall point is that working together is the best resource. So get out there and are what you are reading, work together, in our libraries, in our regions, and across the country.

You can always see everything I have read since 2007 by using this link.

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