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Readers’ Advisory Tool Kit III: Market Driven Readers’ Advisory – Three More Skills to Increase Your Effectiveness as an RA Librarian

As the day wound down, attendance at the Readers’ Advisory Tool Kit III was a bit down, though still very decent. Those who lasted the full day of PLA got to hear three well-known librarians suggest more ways to get books into the hands of readers.

With her section “Promoting the Backlist,” Georgine Olson of Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library and Regional Center in Fairbanks, Alaska (is the library stationary in landscape to fit the letterhead?), spoke to something that concerns me. How do you get all the great old books off the shelves and to readers? Many just sit as readers do not make it past the displays and into the stacks. She pointed out that every library has these books that have dropped from the public eye, and they should be our strength. We often have them and book stores do not. How do we move them?

Part of the answer is that we actually do have to move them – put them on the displays that are catching the readers’ eyes. They can be mixed with like titles that are new, put in theme displays, collected into author highlight displays, and more.

Booklists are another way to draw attention to older books. Many of the same rules as for displays apply, especially mixing old and new. One idea that I liked was making lists of hot new authors’ favorite authors or old books, the title’s that made them want to write. Many current authors have websites on which they list these books.

Olson also told her rules for making Read-a-Like lists. For a hot new author, choose four old authors that are similar. Likewise, for an old author, choose four new authors to suggest.

Joyce Saricks (described on the PLA website as “author, retired” which is hard to fathom for the active librarian) followed with her section “The Sane Librarian’s Guide to Genre Studies.” Sarrcks has been involved in many genre studies for both fiction and nonfiction. Her study groups within the library or in area groups like the Reading Roundtable read books in a genre, identify appeal factors, and record their findings for use at RA desks. She said that once we are aware of the characteristics of a genre, we are able to identify the new titles and how they change the genres, and we can find books for our readers whom we know. (I will testify that Joyce has suggested books for my reading and she is usually right on.)

Saricks regrets that she has not kept notes on every book she has ever read. Those she thought unnecessary to describe in the past are some of the titles she now wishes she could remember.

She urges libraries to open up RA training to everyone in the library. The circulation desk is often the real front line for helping readers. If the circulation staff have been made aware of the issues, they are more likely to be able to offer some help to readers or remember to connect them to the RA librarians.

Neal Wyatt, Readers’ Advisory Specialist of Richmond, Virginia, ended the afternoon with her discussion “Scuba Gear for RA.” Her concern was how how do we stay ahead of the book buzz. She described her own frustrations of seeing books she has not ordered hitting bestsellers’ lists. She consoled us that it happens to everyone and that we have to forgive ourselves and move on. She also offered websites to watch to lessen the frustration.

The problem, however, is that there are far too many websites competing for our attention. She recommended picking a few really good ones and sticking with them, scheduling when you read them weekly. She pointed out a few she likes:

She also recommended Cindy Orr’s RA Rundown at Reader’s Advisor Online for a recap of a week’s book news and Elegant Variation for its blogroll.

A new website to watch it Early Word, which is designed specifically to help libraries know what important books are forthcoming.

Nearly at the end, she recommended having books by authors who win the Alex Awards, named as Notable Books from PLA, and the new Reading List Award.

The three RA librarians celebrated the end of the program by giving away books to those who could most quickly answer questions about titles mentioned in the presentation.