I love talking to people about what they’re reading. I always apologetically preface my questions by explaining that I’m a librarian because I don’t think folks frequently talk about what they’re reading. Lately, the service man who came to fix my stove shared that he likes to read biographies of sports and rock stars although he avoids the library because he just doesn’t have as much time to read as he used to (he works more hours than ever before). The baseball dad who jump-started my battery told me that he liked to read Bill O’Reilly. He doesn’t use the library, either. Someday I’d like to spend some more time thinking about how to serve men and get them into the library, or conversely, serve them where they are.
But my most interesting recent conversation was with my hairdresser’s assistant who told me that she used to check out books at the library, but now that she downloads books to her iPhone she never uses the library anymore. She doesn’t download free books from the library; she purchases everything she reads from Amazon. When I told her she could download books for free from the library, she said that the money her books cost her was not an issue. She told me that she values two things especially about the service Amazon provides: when she finishes a book, Amazon prompts her to select a new book it recommends for her based on the book she’s just finished and, Amazon gives her “samples” of books which she saves to remind her what to buy when she’s ready.
My hairdresser’s assistant’s story highlights three concerns I have. Her willingness to pay to have the convenience of not using the library is evidence that, among some of our patrons, library use is not convenient and they would rather pay for materials than suffer the inconvenience of borrowing them from the library. Could we make the patron experience more convenient? Perhaps we could permit patrons to borrow fewer and older books for a longer period. Perhaps we could allow patrons to borrow reference materials when they are not too expensive or recent.
Another concern I have is that we don’t do enough to interest patrons in new titles or read-alike titles while they are in the library. While I’ve been told that readers are always looking for suggestions for new things to read, I’ve often observed very little in an organized fashion to offer suggestions to readers besides telling them about new books (or simply displaying new books in a special area).
Lastly, I think that we need to be where our patrons are. If that means that we need to know something about how hot and steamy a particular romance author is, or which authors would be good readalikes for Debbie Macomber fans, or to be able to rattle off all of the Duck Dynasty spin-off book titles (shucks, I don’t know what they are, either) than that’s something that we should be doing.
I greatly appreciated Kasey Riley’s blog post on Readers Advisory that appeared last week in Illinois Libraries Matter because I believe that readers advisory is very important to the future of libraries. Reading, whether fiction or nonfiction, is still central to many patrons; serving their needs for news and recommendations is simply part of giving them the excellent service they deserve.
Given that fiction is important to patrons at most of our libraries, we need to know something about it and be able to share that knowledge with our patrons. (Of course, nonfiction readers advisory is vital to serving all our patrons, and especially, men.) Libraries are retail environments, and those of us serving the library public need to know the merchandise so that we can express its value to our users, and to make appropriate suggestions to meet their needs.
Elizabeth Neill is a current member and former co-chair of the ILA Marketing Committee. She is extremely active in advocating for Illinois libraries and loves to talk with people to determine how libraries can serve their communities better.