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Sunday, June 23, 2019

RA for All Roadshow Visits ALA Annual: Panorama Project Update Program

The Panorama Project is hosting a session at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, June 23, from 1:00 - 2:00 PM (Room 152A at the Washington Conference Center)
Sari Feldman (Executive Director, Cuyahoga County Library and former ALA President) will provide an update on issues regarding digital library lending. 
Sharon Bruni (Associate Director of Public Services, Mt. Lebanon Public Library) will present the initial findings from the Project’s recent survey of Readers’ Advisory activities. 
Becky Spratford (librarian and founder of RA for All) will present tips on how libraries can address the online and social media promotion opportunities surfaced in the initial survey results. 
Alexis Petric-Black (Senior Manager, Publisher Relations, Rakuten OverDrive) will present Panorama Picks, our recently launched program that uses library demand data to reveal opportunities for booksellers, publishers, authors and libraries.

Yup, that is where I will be at 1pm today. Here is the link to the slides. The bulk of this presentation is Sharon presenting the  preliminary results of our survey. She did an amazing job articulating them via the slides, and whether or not you are here in DC with us, these slides will help every single one of you to do a better job.

My part of this presentation is going to entail spending 10 minutes to address how we move forward with what we know. Since I only have 10 minutes, I am using this space to get all of my thoughts down. I will mostly focus on the social media aspects at the end of this post in person.

I was happy to see that the the findings fell in line with my 10 Rules of RA Service, specifically rules Rules 7-9:
7. Use resources 

  • Think of your job as “leisure reading reference." 
8. Working together is your MOST valuable resource
  • both across whole staff and with other libraries 
9. Bridge the physical-virtual divide

  • opposite sides of the same coin 
  • find ways to get your in building stuff online AND your online stuff in building 

The overall theme of the survey, and really the entire RA Impact Committee of the Panorama Project is that we need to do a better job of owning that we are the book experts in our community. Own It and Flaunt It

But how? I am going to give you tangible take home; things you can start doing at your libraries when you return, with links to more details. And all of it is related to these guiding rules above.

First, we need to stop trying to do everything our selves. As rule 7 states, we need to use resources better. For some weird reason, we have decided that RA work has to all spring from our brains. But that is completely unnecessary. We have spent over 100 years at our public libraries training patrons to come into the library, ask a question, and wait while we look up the answer. The expect us to look things up. Why don't we allow ourselves too with RA? Actually I don't care about psycho analyzing this. We don't have time. Just stop. Use resources.

But more important than the fact that using resources is the core of our profession, it just makes sense. We have limited time to learn about everything, and someone out there has written something about a book your patron would like. Read someone else's comments on Goodreads-- especially 5 star and 2 star reviews to see a range of opinions on a book, and use lists from other places around the web. I have much to say about this topic of how to use the words of others including many examples of resources, you can pull up those posts here.

This leads directly to rule 8 and my second point. One of our best resources is the work we are all doing at our libraries, but for some reason, and the survey supports this, we don't share and work together when it comes to helping leisure readers. Why not? Our staff all read. From the maintenance person to the pages to the clerks, all the way up to the Director. Trust me, I travel all over the country doing these trainings and I have never been proven wrong. Our staff are reading and yet, we are not asking the people who don't work in our departments for help with our work on the service desks.

Why not? If we get more staff involved, by asking them to share what they are reading, we then have more voices as part of our book recommendation engine. More voices means more titles, but more importantly, it also means a wider range of options are being presented. Not only are our support staff more diverse than the professionals [we are 80% white ladies], but when we include everyone on staff, we get a wide range of ages, reading tastes, and new ideas.

You also free people up from only talking about what is happening in their specific area of the library. For example here is an interesting thing I have learned in my travels. Every where I go I ask the Children' staff to raise their hands. Then I ask the ones who also love to read erotica, keep their hands up. There is always at least 1. Are you shocked? If the answer is yes, they you are failing at working together. Just because someone works in children's does that mean that they only read children's books; they just can't talk about their love of the other titles at their desk [for obviously reasons in this example].

But if we find ways to ask everyone to share what they like, we can promote a wider range of books. Using the compound interest of the reading of the entire staff, means we go from promoting 10, 20, 30 titles, to being able to offer hundreds and then over time, thousands. It quickly adds up.

But how? Here are a few ideas you can try at your library:

  • Ask everyone who works at the library and is on Goodreads to friend the library shelf. Tell them that if they give a book 5 stars, that means you can add it to the staff recommendation shelf. Make it easy to participate, but also you need to stop caring which staff members voices can be represented on the staff rec shelf. They don't have to be professional staff or even work the public service desks.
  • Sometimes even this first idea is too much for some staff to participate. In this post I talk about sending out a monthly email to all staff and asking them to share some recent good reads.
  • Find ways to reach out to libraries in your area, especially for smaller libraries, this allows you to get more voices involved even if you only have a staff of 4. Connect with people, in your region, all over your state or across the country. You can use their Goodreads shelves, websites, or even create a statewide place to share book recs like one of my favorites, The Missouri Book Challenge whose motto is "When Missouri libraries compete, everybody wins."
As you can probably see now we are already transitioning to the next rule-- Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide. I could go on about this topic for an hour, in fact, I do this frequently. But here I want to talk about social media use specifically. We are going about it all wrong. This is where we can Own and Flaunt our work better, but we first have to understand that the work we do online is NOT SEPARATE from the work we are doing in our buildings. They are simply the opposite sides of the same coin. When we look at it this way, our work on social media improves.

Here are a few Social Media and Libraries tips that the vast majority of us are not doing with concrete examples of things you can try:
  1. Pick one platform and use it, I suggest Instagram for you library work. Why? Because it is the easiest way to turn in-house work like displays or staff recs into posts. Make a display? Take a picture and post it. My favorite, and it goes with the previous rule, at your staff day, ask everyone to bring the best book they read in the last year-- not from their department only, not that only came out in that year-- the book they most enjoyed since the last time you met. They bring it to staff day and at some point, you get everyone to pose with their book in a picture. Later you turn those pictures into a weekly series of staff book recs on Instagram. 1 a week for how many weeks you have staff. And then if it doesn't finish the year out, either repeat [because social media has a VERY short memory] or send out an all staff email to ask for more volunteers. This gives you a a wide range of personalized reading recommendations.
  2. Redirect your work from that one platform to other social media. Once you have picked one platform, you don't have to abandon the others, just stop creating original content on the others and send them to the place where you are posting a lot.
  3. Post frequently, like all the time frequently. You are not spamming people if you post the same thing 3 times in one day. The way the social media feeds work, even the savviest users miss things if they aren't posted more than once a day. But also, be consistent. Have content every single day. You are going to be seen more frequently if you have regular content. Once a week doesn't cut it. Every. Single. Day. Honestly if you don't post that frequently you might as well not do it at all. Use scheduling software and options to pre-arrange content. And also, this is where the opposite sides of the same coin issue comes into play, if you can use content you have already created for in house use as a social media post, you are maximizing the number of people who interact with the library and the books you are recommending. You are actually doing less new work but reaching more people with the good work you have already done in both places-- the building and the web-- at the same time.
  4. Use Twitter to connect with other libraries, publishers and authors. I know I said pick one platform, but that was for your patron service. To make sure that our libraries can do rules 7 and 8 better and also to promote the great work we are doing to connect readers with books, we also need to reach out to where the authors and publishers are most frequently interacting with readers these days-- Twitter. Let the authors and publishers know by tagging them, that we are suggesting their books. Even if all you are doing is retweeting their tweets, they will notice you are helping their promotional engines. And then- repeat the post frequently advice.
  5. Do unboxing videos. I do not have time to explain this one, but I have an entire post here. We get boxes of books every week. We should be opening them on YouTube and mentioning the authors, titles, and publishers and reading the cover copy. Why should only the back room staff get to experience the joy of the new books? Spread it to your patrons. Get them excited about the materials. Promote the authors and their books. It's all in this post.

There is much more to say on this topic and I post about all of these issues regularly here on the blog, but for today, this is a start.

I know we are all doing great things at all of our libraries. I know because you have brought me to many of your libraries to see what you are doing and help you get better at serving leisure readers. But we all need to be better at working together and flaunting our awesomeness. The compound interest of every library taking the advice of the work we are doing on this project-- all of us working together and promoting the great work we do getting books into patrons's hands, ultimately leading to more book sales all around-- that can become one very loud voice. All of our smaller voices joined together will reverberate and shake the core of the problem. That problem is huge. The publishers don't respect our power to create sales. Sorry if that rattles some feathers here, but it is true and someone has to say it out loud. We wouldn't have the Panorama Project if they did. But here's the thing, we blame the publishers for not respecting the power of our voices, but we should be blaming ourselves.

We do not respect the work we are doing enough to shout it from the rafters. I know this because you hire me to help you improve at this in your libraries. Let's start today. Climb up on our preverbal roofs-- social media-- and start crowing about yourselves, your work, and your RA skills. Encourage your staff and neighboring libraries to join you. Let's unite as one voice and prove what we know. That the work we do, leads to more people discovering more great titles, which leads to more sales than there would be without us.

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