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Monday, April 25, 2022

RA Services Means Getting Your Books Out of the Library

As I travel the country training libraries on everything from basic RA Service principles to hand selling books, understanding genres, and how to be actively anti-racist, one common issue comes up every single time. And it is something we need to address before any progress can be made on serving leisure readers of any age from any circulating library: 

We need to stop thinking of ourselves as the guardians of the books, the gatekeepers, and instead remember that our goal is to do everything we can to get the books out of our buildings, or checked out of our digital collections.

If you work at a public or school library, you need to remember, these are NOT your books. They belong to the users. Literally. Your goal is to get them off the shelf and into peoples hands. If a title is too popular, buy more copies, or, if money is tight, work to create while you wait lists or displays to help people find titles they would like in the meantime.

Older titles not circulating? Highlight them on displays, put them face out, make lists for your website or social media. Still not circulating? Weed it! Even if you think it is a classic. Weed it! Last time I checked most of you work at libraries that are about serving readers right now. You are not a historical archive. Stop caring about classics. 

[Also, an important side note: what you think is a classic may be boring and useless to your users. For example, you loved Little House on the Prairie as a kid, but your young readers today would much rather read the "Dear America" books set on the prairie. For more on this topic, see my classics change post here.]

Also, here is another "library science" things we insist on doing that explains how deep this misguided foundation runs. For some reason we have this notion that alphabetical order is THE ONLY classification system we can use for fiction. As a result, we shelve series titles in alphabetical order?!?!?!? But ask yourself this question: When have you met a reader who reads series in alpha order? You haven't. They read them in numerical order. By shelving series in alpha order we make it harder for the books to get into readers' hands. [I have a longer post about this topic here.]

Those are but two examples. This issue rears its head in so many training programs in the questions I receive, some times it is not the direct question, but it underlies the question being asked, and other times it is right in my face. I just want everyone who reads this to stop and think about the fact that your job is to set your items free. Full stop. That is the easiest way to understand service to leisure readers both from the service desk perspective and the collection development side.

For more detail on this topic, you can read my 2019 post entitled:

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

This gets at the nuance a bit more. But the basic goal is the same-- Don't be a gatekeeper, set you books free!

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