One of the things we’re working on at my public library is increasing our personalized readers advisory services. We’re planning to use a form, and I hope we can also do some staff training to increase readers advisory at the information desk as well. Multnomah County Public Library is taking personalized service in a slightly different direction with My Librarian, an online service that allows patrons to get to know the readers advisory staff. I have noticed that our patrons love it when we sign reviews, make a display of a particular staff member’s favorites, or otherwise connect in a personal way. For National Library Week, I invited staff members to join me on booksecret.org, and one of them also made an eye-catching display of our booksecret submissions:
Just about every day I hear a patron comment on how much they enjoyed seeing what we like to read.
But I recently heard about a library where the staff didn’t want to include their names on recommendations or reviews. I have mixed feelings about that. I get that some people are private or shy or have concerns I perhaps haven’t even thought of regarding using even just their first names in a public space.
On the other hand, I think humanizing what we do, and making sure people feel personally connected to their library and librarians, is beneficial. It can only be good if people see us as familiar members of their communities, not just as anonymous public servants. I’d like patrons to leave the library feeling we are part of the same happy book tribe (which is why I think it is important to encourage staff to chat a bit with patrons, so that they feel welcomed and cared about, but that’s another post).
In an interview, the Multnomah County library director Vailey Oehlke explained that people could get book recommendations on Amazon.com (or I would add, the library catalog online, if like ours, it includes Novelist Select or another discovery tool), but that’s ” a pretty transactional experience . . . . It’s not a conversation, it’s not a relationship that develops with a back-and-forth personal connection.” Reporter Kelly House notes that when people go to their local library, “familiar faces greet patrons daily.” My Librarian is an effort to replicate that experience for online library users.
Which brings me to a common theme here at Nocturnal Librarian: libraries, like other service organizations, may change their delivery methods or search tools, but the basics of what we do — like make reading recommendations to patrons who we get to know — are what we’ve always done well. I’m all for reaching people in new ways, but instead of touting how much we’ve changed, I think there is real value in reminding people that what they’ve always counted on libraries for, like help finding a good book, is still what they can count on us for.
And I believe that Vailey Oehlke is correct, our patrons trust us because we are familiar to them, and that’s something else unique to libraries. People could get books anywhere; they come to us in part because libraries are a community service, and both parts of that term should be at the heart of what we are and do. I plan to keep putting my name on whatever I recommend, and to encourage my staff to do the same, so we remain, for our patrons,”their” librarians.