Friday, December 09, 2005

Rewarding Reading - Reader Advisory Training

Just taking a few minutes to blog about the Reader Advisory training that our library team is doing at the moment. This much waited for event - the luxury of 3 days of dedicated, get away from it all training in this important area of library service - is being conducted for (nearly) our whole library team of 9 (4 of our number have had to maintain a skeleton crew to keep the libraries open, including calling in our semi-retired stand-by, and a staff member especially released from another department because she used to work in the library!) by "Libraries Alive!" a two person library consultancy. For a course overview see their website.

I might blog about this in more depth later, but at the 2 day point od the course these are the off the cuff insights I've gained so far:

1. We know that libraries are all about information. We're pretty skilled up around answering reference queries. But public library users and borrowers, by a far and away huge majority, use their library for something other than information - reading for "pleasure". While I was dimly aware of Reader Advisory as a defined service, now I know it too has a philosophy, practice and structure. And knowing about these things in more depth can help us perform it better.

2. And it's OK to be loud and proud about it! "Reading for pleasure" is not second best to reading for information. It's another highly valuable service that has repercussions for our cultural, social, mental and personal wellbeing. It is just as important to fund the library because of this function, as it is for supplying information. There are heaps of people out there (I invariably meet them at social functions when I mention I'm a librarian) who say "I don't read" and sneer (sometimes literally) at the thought of reading for pleasure. We have to advocate for the equally large number of people who DO value reading.

3. It's a whole of team thing. In a small public library like ours everyone does reader advisory. You don't have to have read everything in the universe to be a great reader's advisor. By pooling and sharing our knowledge we can build on each other's strengths. For the gaps (hey, let's face it we have a bit of a gender imbalance as currently we don't have any male staff!) we can call on the prodigious sources of RA info and tools on the net and developed by other libraries (that's today's session!). And harness perhaps our best resource - our own customers.

4. Being non-judgmental. As an example - you all know them - the fanatical romance readers. The ones who consume Mills and Boons and complain bitterly when you run out of new titles (they only publish 24 a month, give us a break!!), the ones who suggest for purchase whole series of "bodice rippers" with titles like "The Laird returns" , "The Prince's slave" etc etc. I asked one of these ladies the other day (nicely I hope) "But aren't they all the same?" and she replied most passionately that no, they were all unique and fantastic, different authors had different styles, she recommended different ones to her friends and they talked about them amongst themselves etc etc. Well that's her reality, who am I to argue. And she must be right, because every one of the books I have bought on her recommendation have been wildly popular. So rather than being snobby about it (which I admit was my first impulse) now I'm thinking that I could ask this lady to prepare a recommendation list! Or maybe even start a romance discussion group! (I think this has been done in Singapore...)

Anyway that's a start, I have to get ready for work now or else I'll miss the start of the next session...


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