Patron for a day

Yesterday, while my library was closed, I read about J.K. Rowling being outed as Robert Galbraith. I placed a hold on her book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and looked forward to picking it up this morning. I got to the library about 45 minutes after it opened. The book had gone out to another patron who’d found it sitting on the new book shelf.

The staff at the desk reminded me that this is our policy: if a patron comes to the circulation desk with a book, even one that’s been placed on hold by another patron, the hold is over-ridden and the patron gets to take the book out. Which had happened about 3 minutes before I came in. I had seen the book was available when I placed the hold and didn’t think about this scenario, or I would have arrived when the library opened. I knew the policy, but didn’t think about it.

I ran my other errands and came home, feeling disappointed and a little put out, both with myself for not thinking about getting there when the library opened (anticipating the demand for the book), and with the situation. If a page had pulled the holds before I arrived, I could have taken the book out, because it would already have been on the hold shelf; likewise if I’d arrived before someone else who wanted the book, it would be on my nightstand.

But this has been eye-opening because it made me see how easy it is to set policies on the staff side without feeling the impact from the patron side — this particular policy on paper seems fair and customer service oriented. Possession is 9/10 of the law, right? And it makes sense to try to please the person who is physically in the library and might get upset if you tell him or her the book is unavailable when clearly, it was on the shelf.

Until I was the patron who saw the book still available (moments before I left home) in the online catalog and drove over anticipating picking it up, the policy was just a dry note on a page (and one I easily forgot about, since it doesn’t come up much for me when I’m working at the reference desk). Now it is a part of my experience as a library user, and it doesn’t feel so good.

Which made me wonder, what else am I (and library staff everywhere) not experiencing from the patron point of view? Maybe part of staff training should be “patron for a day” exercises, requiring people to get out from behind their desks and use the library, to get a real feel for the “usability” of our spaces and policies.

Do you do this kind of thing in your library? If so, how has it worked? Have you changed any policies, shelving, or other aspect of your library as a result of your own experience as a patron?

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Automated but human

A convergence of forces, including budget cuts and reduced staffing, automation, and patrons “browsing” online when the library is actually closed, means that readers’ advisory can’t always be a face to face conversation. Some libraries are using forms to create “personal shopper” style recommendations for readers. Others are blogging or posting reviews in local media and on their websites, casting a wide net with recommendations.

My public library tested NoveList Select for our catalog and I found that it worked pretty well. It connects Ebscohost’s NoveList tool, which recommends books when you input a title, author, or series, to the library’s catalog so that when a patron searches for a book, other recommended titles from your collection appear at the bottom of the page. NoveList says “The recommendations are created by professional librarians who understand readers’ advisory.” So it’s automated from the patron’s point of view, but a human being decides what to suggest.

Chelmsford Public Library in Massachusetts is in the middle of a very cool project linking their children’s staff’s readers’ advisory to their catalog and even to their physical collection with QR codes. You should read Brian Herzog’s post at Swiss Army Librarian for the technical details.  But the executive summary is that their read-alike lists, which are something most libraries create for their patrons, are integrated into the library’s website and catalog, and the staff are linking them all to QR codes. They’re printing stickers and putting them in the books themselves so when a reader gets to the end of a book, they can immediately find recommendations for their next read.

Do you know of another example of best-of-both-worlds readers’ advisory that combines human brainpower (rather than computer algorithms) to make reading recommendations but harnesses technology to get these suggestions into readers’ hands? Comment below and share your thoughts.