Week 5: Service Review – Readers' Advisory

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    • #1265

      Neal Wyatt, Library Journal columnist, said recently that:

      ” …. the creativity, dedication, and drive of thousands of librarians—as well as the interest and desire of millions of readers—have made RA a mission-critical service in libraries,”

      Despite his powerful message, I was filled with trepidation approaching my local library to do my service review this week. I was certain that my role as ‘undercover shopper’ would be found out and I would be asked to leave, with dozens of genuine patrons looking on in outrage. Having never used a readers’ advisory service, I was uncertain as to how I could go about asking for help, particularly in a library I hadn’t used before, and unwilling to waste the time of busy librarians with my request.

      [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] buzzfeed.com via Barbara Moon @bmoon2[/caption]

      As it happened, I needn’t have worried. A smiling librarian approached me as I entered the library and asked if she could help me. Reassured, I launched into a description of my rather eclectic tastes in literature, explained I was looking for something new to read and that it was my first time visiting this library. Although aware that most public libraries offer readers’ advisory, and that in Queensland professional development in RA has been recommended for public library staff, I was still delighted that she immediately expressed an interest in my reading habits.

      A lively discussion ensued, which I enjoyed enormously (love talking books), and she suggested an Australian author I knew of, but whose books I hadn’t read. Guiding me to the right spot in the shelves she left me to browse the three titles they had, asking me to come back to her if I needed more help. Choosing one of the three books and then, caught up by the lure of books, I spent a happy half hour searching for more.

      Book displays are a common feature of readers’ advisory and a colourful display of graphic novels caught my eye. Another book, this time for my son, was quickly chosen.

      [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="405"] schoollibrarydisplays.blogspot.com.au[/caption]

      Wanting to ask for any read-alike options, I approached the desk where the librarian was now working, but she was busy. Smiling at the pile of books in my arm she indicated another librarian who was free. I signed up for a library card, borrowed the books and scurried out, a little guilt trickling back into my blood stream.

      My experience of the library service was very positive. Although there was no formal readers’ adviser apparent, there was an indication that RA was an embedded library service – the librarian was proactive and approached me, rather than me having to approach a desk. She was interested in my preferences, was clearly a reader herself (important to me as a voracious reader) and was obviously familiar with the library’s collection of literature. She suggested a book that suited both my tastes and the preferences I had expressed. The display of graphic novels piqued my interest and helped me to find a book for my teenaged son who, at thirteen, is not always easily pleased. I would have liked to discuss some read-alike options but the library was busy and, although I was genuinely interested in the service and borrowing the books, my mission to test the service weighed on my mind and, to be fair to the librarian, contributed to my missing out on the read-alikes. One other disappointment was the library’s catalogue which, unlike the trend towards incorporating an RA element and inviting users to generate and share content, was flat and bland, without recommendations from staff or other users.

      I’ll certainly be visiting the library again, and next time I’m sure I’ll be much more confident of myself and the service. At least, I hope I won’t feel the need for a hat and sunglasses again …..

      As a footnote to this topic, during the Twitter chat on Monday, the strong US bias in the Wikipedia entry on readers’ advisory was noted and I asked if anyone knew of any Australian or English RA resources. Clare Thorpe @thorpe_clare kindly located information for Australian and NZ readers at LibrariesAlive! Many thanks Clare, I have now edited my first Wikipedia entry!

    • #1266
      Sarah Ross

      Loved this and I think you clearly encapsulated (a) the frustrations of finding books for teenage boys and (b) the hesitancy we all face when trying to engage with someone who is clearly busy.

      • #1285

        Thanks Sarah, it was a good experience but in hindsight I was pretty ridiculous – the librarians are there to help after all and I had a genuine enquiry. There was just something about the fact that I was there to review a service that made it seem a little clandestine. My reflection was written in a humorous way because I was reflecting on my own absurd behaviour, but I was making some serious points about what a good service I encountered and why it was good.

        As it has turned out I’m glad I went, the librarian made me feel very welcome and I’ll certainly be going again.

    • #1432
      Stephanie Venturato

      I had the same feeling doing my program review, the whole time I was there I was just thinking I’m going to write about you later, I’ll write about ALL of you. So great you had such a positive experience, nothing beats a good book chat, I agree I think that if you are a voracious reader you really need a voracious advisory as well.   It was a very entertaining post!

      • #1465

        Thank you for the feedback Stephanie – I didn’t realise when I started out that a service review would be a combination of absurdity and guilt, all the while trying to take mental notes of my experiences and keeping an eye out for RA features. My reflection was intended to indicate how difficult it can be sometimes for people to approach a library, let alone approach a desk. The librarian in this case really eased my fears with her proactive and welcoming response. In this way, and in others of course, I think embedded services are very important to libraries at a time when their relevance has been questioned. Finding ways in which libraries can contribute to a good ‘user experience’ are critical in my view.

        Looking forward to my Program Review now!

    • #1435
      Will Wood

      You had me grinning the whole time I read your post!

      I laughed out loud when I read:

      I was certain that my role as ‘undercover shopper’ would be found out and I would be asked to leave, with dozens of genuine patrons looking on in outrage.

      The image of a host of library patrons being upset about anything other than changed library hours or a copy of a book that the catalogue says is there but isn’t really cracked me up. Great to read that you had such a positive experience even with the guilty feelings and it makes me keen to conduct my own sneaky review. I’m sure my trench coat and large fake mustache can only serve to help me. You’ve inspired me to get all Carmen Sandiego on my victi- *cough, I mean local library staff. Thanks for the comment on my post too!

      • #1464

        Make sure you insert an image of you in the trench coat and moustache Will – it will be a winner!

        Thanks for the comments, I did feel a bit absurd 😉

    • #1512
      Caitlin .

      This is great love the format and the pictures, I am keen to check out my own libraries RA now!

      • #1563

        Thanks Cailtin. I’d be very happy to think I inspired you to try your own library’s RA, especially as I had such a good experience. I love reading but had never known that RA was a specific library service until it cropped up in this course. Having a better understanding now I feel enabled to utilise the library in different ways and the positive experience I had reinforces that.

        I enjoyed using the images to illustrate my review but I need to try Kate’s method of embedding the images now to get rid of the extra text that is spoiling the look of the post. Thanks for your kind remarks.

    • #1535
      Stacey Larner

      Hahaha entertaining review :D. I can’t believe you felt bad, hey you got some great books!

      • #1564

        I did get some great books Stacey and I’ve been back to get more since then, so my courage has been rewarded!

    • #1657
      Caitlin .

      Hi Robynne,

      Congrats on the gold star, how do we discuss assignment two? Patti may still be looking for a group would you like to be in a group of three.Not sure how to contact you tried to work out how to direct message on twitter but have not managed it yet.


      • #1777

        Hi Caitlin, would you email me please? I don’t have your address 🙂

        Thanks, Robynne

    • #1681

      Hi Caitlin,

      My email is robynne.kilborneblake@connect.qut.edu.au or robynne.blake.49@gmail.com

      Happy to be in a group of 3. Are you on campus or only online? I can do either.

      Cheers, Robynne

    • #1685
      Caitlin .

      Thanks Robynne will email tomorrow and let Patti know.also although maybe now its not a group task we can just collaborate on google docs. As soon as I know how to use them. 🙂


    • #1959
      Nicole Steer

      Whenever I’m in a suburb or area I haven’t been before, I like to check out their libraries, even if I’m not planning on borrowing anything – so I get where that sneaky feeling is coming from! 😛 Sometimes it’s nice to just check them out and see how the libraries I’ve worked with stack up. (Obviously the ones I’ve worked at have been the absolute best and have unrivalled service quality and collection breadth, but that’s beside the point.)

      Library displays are very handy for “recommending” books to readers. The libraries I’ve worked at have all kinds of unwritten rules about how displays should be done and it’s not uncommon to see someone feverishly scribbling down an idea for a display in their lunch break. (Librarians are never truly off-duty.) There’s a real art to it, to making things eye-catching, but not overwhelming; balanced, but a little bit special. And sometimes you’ll find a book that looks so good you just HAVE to make a display around it!

      • #2039

        How I envy your experience in libraries Nicole – you sound like a natural librarian to me 🙂 Thanks too for the insight into creating book displays – I don’t think I’m a creative displays kind of person and it’s good to have some tips. If I make it to “librarian” one day, I’ll get back to you on that one! I can see the importance in making displays eye-catching – like window dresing in a shop. It’s an art form. But it has a serious underlying purpose too – to showcase the commodities and make “sales” or increase circulation. Maybe I just need to give it a go, like so many other things in this course – talk about moving out of my comfort zone!! In all honesty it’s been fun too so I’ll keep at it. Thanks for your comments, hope you walk into “my” library one day 😉

    • #1991
      Samantha Maddox

      This post made me smile 🙂 and I concur with you in regards to feeling like they ‘know’ you are reviewing their service as an RA! I did my RA service review online and i had to do everything to stop myself from letting the poor woman know that i was going to be writing about my experience. I simply wanted to tell her that she did great and she is doing an awesome job. People don’t get told that enough.

      • #2040

        Thanks Samantha, you’re dead right – we need to tell people when they do a great job. I’ll certainly do that when I go back to the library.

    • #2314
      Chris Sonneveld

      Hi Robynne

      Thanks for the great post. I hope my first experience with a RA is as exciting as yours. I think RA is a service that would be hard to keep consistent across branches and that it’s success is definitely up to the experience and helpfulness of the individuals at each branch. It’s nice to know that some branches share recommendations with one another and if they can’t help they’ll track down a resource that can.

      Also, thanks for the RA link, I’ve found it really helpful.

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