Duncan opened by reading a quote and asking us where we thought it was from:
"We will help you find the perfect collection of books for reflection resolution or relaxation."
Sounds like it could be from a library? It's actually from the website of an English bibliotherapist. Duncan first heard about her in an article in En Route magazine (“Geek Odysseys - Book Loving in London: Volume 2 Bibliotherapy”). The bibliotherapist profiled, Ella Berthoud, spoke about the importance of novels at life-changing moments, and how the reading of these novels allows us to come back to world refreshed.
Duncan then asked, what is the nature of readers' advisory work? He proposed the following four core ideas:
- To help readers understand what they like
- To assist readers in finding more of what they like
- To deepen readers’ appreciation of their reading
(Smith told a story about Jane Goodall explaining in an interview how her interest in animals was sparked by reading about Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan. He also mentioned an interview with Mia Bauer, the founder of Crumbs Bake Shop, who spoke of being inspired to open her own business by Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence: “she didn't want to live a life of regret like Wharton’s characters.”)
- To support readers in sharing their reading with others (sharing comments via catalogue)
- between books
- between readers and books
- between readers (creating a culture and climate of sharing that deepens understanding)
- between readers and books and us!
One essential thing that Smith identified that we need for effective readers' advisory services is the readers themselves. Those who use the library just for fun are approximately7% of all users, but account for 24% of all visits to the library. What is missing from their profile is interaction with staff. Stats from major Canadian public libraries show that the majority of people who come in to the library are not interacting with staff. Also, stats show increased placement of holds online, which means readers may not visit in person as much anymore. In the US, we see that typically 87% of holds are placed remotely. “People are searching for things they already know about, not coming in to find out more about other things;” they see the library as “a utilitarian service.”
This use of the library as a utilitarian service speaks to a lack of connection to the library, and specifically to the skilled staff. Smith pointed out that above and beyond implications for readers’ advisory service, this lack of connection can also affect library funding, because “people who are not connected don't vote for increased funding.” Staff need to focus on not just saying "Sorry, we don't have that," but on starting a conversation with readers. Smith posed the question of how we are behaving in interactions with readers: “are we being reactive, invitational, suggestive, enlightening (teaching how to use Novelist), anticipatory, contributatory, participatory?”
We might think the world is now dominated by technology, but it's actually dominated by relationships and “social capital,” just in different places. Some modern places to build social capital include: in the library catalogue, on the library website, in the blogosphere, on social sites (GoodReads, Facebook, etc). With respect to social websites, Smith encouraged us to engage in outreach to them: ‘places like Good Reads are full of library lovers. We should be connecting with them!”
What is our value? According to Smith, there are three ways readers' advisory experts add value:
- Our professional stance: we talk about the promise or potential of books for all readers, not from a personal perspective (eg. “This book is great if you love 18th century mysteries because...” not “I loved this book because....”)
- Our focus on the reader
- Our “reflective practice:” our use of well-researched and thoughtful criteria to categorise reading (the appeal factors).