I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Call to Action: You Are Not Done Working Until Every Single One of Your Books Is Checked Out At Once

Today's Call to Action post is from a note I have had in my draft folder for a while and it something I often say during my in person appearances--
Your work is not done until every single one of your books is check out all at once.
Obviously this comment is meant to be provocative and spur conversation. It has way more nuance than it seems upon first glance; however, it does quickly sum up the entirety of our main mission in RA Service. Our job is to get the books out into the world, off our shelves, and into potential readers' hands. It is not to collect them, possess them, and be the gatekeepers, limiting access.

I know you all know this in theory but too often I see library workers getting possessive about "their books" or "their collection." The books are not yours. They belong to your community because they paid for them. You simply chose what to fill the shelves with. They trusted you with the funds to make their collective collection. We are there to figure out the most efficient and effective ways to get the right item in the right person's hand when they want or need it. Period. No buts.

I don't care if the book is one that has a tendency to disappear. Replace it. I don't care how you feel about the title at hand. If it is what that reader wants, give it to them.

I have literally had to tell library workers [both co-workers and clients] to stop limiting access, to stop thinking they are your books, to stop closing the gate. So that is why I developed this soundbite:
Your work is not done until every single one of your books is check out all at once.
It is an easy way to start this conversation. But let me break down a few deeper levels of meaning here.

First, this statement reminds us that we are matchmakers between the books languishing on the shelf and that perfect reader who would love said title if only they knew of its existence. Matchmaking is an active verb. This reminds us that we aren't supposed to sit back and wait for people to ask us for help. We need to always be working toward improving book discovery for our patrons. Whether we are actively book talking or making displays, posting lists, doing staff picks, whatever it is. Our job as Readers' Advisors is about us making the effort to match people with titles.

Second, this statement brings up key collection development issues. If your work is not done until every single title is checked out at once, then you need to ask yourself, why isn't every title checked out. This question is one we should always be asking ourselves. And the answer is two fold.

  1. Are we buying the correct books for our community? All of us who do purchasing should always be assessing if the books we are choosing are what our community wants. I don't care what you want. Are your choices diverse and inclusive in every way, so that all members of the community can read about all human experiences? 
  2. Are we weeding enough? Sometimes books that should be going out aren't because they are surrounded by too much junk. Weeding is essential to having a healthy collection
These are both huge topics that I, as well as many others, have discussed at length in other places, so of course, I am not doing them justice here, but I would also be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that these issues belong in this post, at least as a mention.

Third, in the your work is not done until....discussion is that this statement should also remind you about pushing those backlist titles. Books you know are a good read but which haven't  circulated in a while. I talk about the backlist and it's potential as a treasure trove of "new to you" options for readers often here on the blog, but today I am adding a brand new backlist tip:
I suggest having your team work together each month to identify some way back titles that you should all be book talking that month. Get 10 titles together, print out some quick info from NoveList or Goodreads, put it all together in one document and encourage staff to prioritize hand selling those titles that month.  You made the list by working together, so you are getting a wide variety of options and your patrons will love hearing about so many "new to them" titles. When we give them title suggestions they never would have found on their own, without us, they are happier with us and more willing to ask for help again, even if they didn't love the title. And by working together, you all do a little work, but together you make a huge impact. 
This leads to the fourth and final point: Try to suggest titles you haven't before. The backlist tip above is one way to do this. But another way is to simply roam your shelves and look for titles you have never heard of. Grab a few. Bring them back to the desk. Look them up in your favorite resource. Read some reviews- professional or reader comments. And then try suggesting the best sounding ones to a reader who may enjoy them. And if the book you pulled out randomly seems like a bad fit for your collection and you can't think of anyone to suggest it to, then weed it. You just tried point 4 but accomplished point 2. Winners all around there.

One of the benefits to living the mantra- Your work is not done until every single one of your books is check out all at once- is that along the way you will also be identifying new ideas of what to suggest to your patrons, leading them to finding new books that might even be in a different genre than they normally read, which will in turn lead to them trying more of what you have, which will in turn mean more of your titles get checked out. See where this is heading? In other words, living by this motto means you are also modeling it as a behavior and that will encourage your patrons, actively or subliminally, to try something hiding in the stacks too.

Obviously, you will never have all of your books checked out at once, but that's why it is a vision, not a mission. Mission statements help you to define what you are doing, but vision statements are the ideal of where you hope to get to in a perfect world, but realistically never will.

Have vision in your RA Service. Attempting to have all of your books checked out at once is a great way to keep that vision of ideal RA Service in front of you, on the horizon, not behind you in the review mirror.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

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