Buy it now?

Yesterday I listened to a Library Journal webinar, “Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers,”on readers’ advisory. I heard a number of good ideas to share with my boss and coworkers.  But one topic I found a little disturbing: “buy it now buttons” in library catalogs, so patrons can purchase rather than wait for a book.

All the panelists thought this was a good idea, worth promoting heavily so patrons would know a portion of  purchases benefited the library. What I found ominous was that one panelist suggested, based on his conversations with a group of library professionals, most libraries would incorporate “buy it now” in their catalogs without hesitation especially if publishers made it a condition of lending their books.

I don’t know whether publishers are considering that. But I’m especially wary because I know NoveList Select, a popular discovery tool for integrating readers’ advisory in catalogs, links to Goodreads reviews, and Amazon just bought Goodreads. I’d really hate to see Amazon be the sole “buy it now” option in any library catalog, especially ours, since we have an independent bookstore in town as well.

It appears that library “buy it now” buttons are already available through OverDrive. I know there are long wait times for popular e-books because of the restrictions publishers place on library e-lending. I was relieved to see OverDrive allows patrons to select from several stores, including IndieBound. I still don’t like it.

Yes, the mission of libraries is to promote reading and provide access to reading materials. But libraries are also free and our resources are freely available to all. It’s already possible for someone who doesn’t want to wait for a book to go buy it. Why should we alter our mission to provide e-commerce?  A better alternative would be to educate library patrons about why there is such a wait for popular e-books (thanks to Brian Herzog at Swiss Army Librarian for noting that link on his blog).

Libraries could also do more to provide readers’ services to those on long waiting lists. Sometimes the print version of a popular e-book is sitting on the shelf  — wouldn’t it be nice if patrons could see that when they place an e-book hold, or get a message to that effect? A good suggestion I heard on the webinar was to make a “read alike” handout for books with long waiting lists to give people at the service desk — why not email it to those placing e-book holds? Or, email patrons who get on the list for a book with 5 or more holds, inviting them to reply with likes and dislikes (or even use a nifty reader’s advisory form like this one, mentioned in the webinar) and receive personalized reading recommendations from a librarian?

I would think that gaining support by providing excellent professional service is the key to a library’s long term well being, to a far greater extent than the bit of money possibly on the table with “buy it now.” I hope libraries stay out of e-commerce and instead focus on being an indispensable resource for readers in our communities.

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Against best books

It’s the time of year when media outlets are publishing gift guides and “best books of the year” lists. I am contributing a suggestion to my own local newspaper’s holiday book recommendations. And it might sound contrarian, but I’m not recommending a book. Here’s what I’m submitting instead:

I spent days considering what book to recommend. Every time I settled on one, I reconsidered. My idea of the perfect gift book is not going to be yours, and might work for your sister but not for your grandfather, your niece, or your teen. So I suggest the gift of professional reading advice.

This year, wrap a library card application and a gift card to your local independent bookstore. These two places offer what no big box or online mega-seller can: good old fashioned readers’ advisory. In other words, staff who can help anyone who walks through the door choose a book after a few minutes’ conversation. Both libraries and indie bookstores have e-books as well, so this gift works for even your most techie friend. If he already has a library card but hardly ever uses it, pick up or print out the latest brochure on the library’s services and activities, which have probably changed in the past few years. If your gift recipient uses the library regularly, honor her with a donation.

I’d include a short guide to excellent readers’ websites, apps,blogs, and podcasts, like Goodreads, Books on the Nightstand, NancyPearl.com, ReadKiddoRead, or LibraryThing. Visit these sites, copy and paste information about them onto one neat page, and print it on pretty paper. Add a homemade coupon good for an outing with you to the library or bookstore and a treat after, and you’ll give a gift unique to each recipient that no one will return.

Reading Resolutions?

It’s the time of year for resolutions or, as Jeff Goins writes at Zenhabits, for “sustainable habits.” If reading more is among your resolutions, one way is to join a reading challenge.

Words and Peace blog links to two dozen themed challenges. One that intrigued me is “Books Published in the First Years of My Life.” Sarah Reads Too Much is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge, and Jillian at A Room of One’s Own hopes to read “books I started but didn’t finish” in 2012.

Last year I reached The Europa Challenge‘s Ami level by reading fourteen Europa Editions. Europa publishes “literary fiction, high-end mystery and noir, and narrative non-fiction from around the world.” I’ve enjoyed expanding my literary horizons, so this year I’m going for Cafe Luongo level.  Like many reading challenges, The Europa Challenge fosters discussion via its blog, Twitter feed, and Goodreads group.

Goodreads encourages members to define their own 2012 Reading ChallengeBooks On the Nightstand “12 in 2012” challenge participants also customize their goals, such as reading twelve books in a particular genre or twelve books they already own. Another challenge posted at Goodreads is “Around the World (in 52 Books)” which sounds daunting but very appealing.

If you’re just interested in making more time to read, emulate Ann Kingman. On Books on the Nightstand’s podcast #161, she mentioned her plan to read for an hour every morning.  “25 Literary Resolutions” at the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy blog, includes time-related ideas. 

A habit I hope to form in 2012 is reading in tandem with my teen, who doesn’t want me to read aloud, but is amenable to the idea of reading and discussing the same book. She has also challenged me to re-read the Harry Potter books, which I am starting today.

What are your reading resolutions?