Personal Reading Consultants: Blending Technology and Touch


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Presentation for the Amigos Conference on the Harris County Public Library's Book Hunters Reader's Advisory service. Presented by Grace Lillevig and Linda Stevens.

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  • LINDAThank you LauraNo matter what type of library you work for, I think we’re all looking at ways to connect with our library customers. We’re trying different things in our buildings such as collaboration areas, technology petting zoos, early literacy centers, etc. And, we’re trying different things online like blogging, social networking and mobile tools. We still try to offer the best service we can when someone walks into the library seeking their perfect book, but online readers advisory gives us an additional opportunity to ask everything we need to ask, time to prepare thoughtful recommendations, and a physical list that has lasting value for the reader. It’s the start of a beautiful relationship.
  • LINDASince their publication in 1931, the Five Laws of Library Science have remained at the core of the profession and we can continue to look to them in designing modern library services.We are going through a time of transformation in libraries, a time when we’re all trying to figure out what the libraries of the future will offer.This Amigos conference is all about enhancing and modernizing the library experience, but I think what is special about the online reader’s advisory service is that it’s the perfect bridge between core library values that still have impact, and personalized services for modern life.
  • GraceJust to be sure we’re all on the same page, here is a definition we found for Reader’s Advisory when we were preparing the training for our team. At it’s core, it’s helping readers by recommending specific titles and marries staff knowledge to your (hopefully) good collection. Essentially, you are marketing your collection to your readers. It’s not just this online service or in person readers advisory. So that we have an idea of what you are currently doing, which of these services does your library currently offer?Book DisplaysLibrary prepared book lists – either online or paperAuthor VisitsBook Discussion GroupsBook TalksIn person reader’s advisoryOnline reader’s advisory
  • LINDANote: refer to resultsWe’re librarians, why aren’t we selling our expertise? In working with other librarians planning programs we keep receiving suggestions for booksellers as the speakers on reading. Don’t get me wrong, booksellers are experts, but aren’t librarians book and reading experts, no matter the format or venue? As far as online suggestions, our customers can easily go to Amazon or GoodReads and see recommended lists and ListMania lists created by Amazon customers, who in most cases are not experts or they have their own agenda. But Book Hunters lists are personalized lists created by a book expert designed specifically to appeal to one readers’ tastes. In this age of personalization, this is something WE can do better than anyone else and we do the entire process for free for the customer from creating the lists to providing the materials.We’re fighting for our lives, why are we ignoring one of our greatest strengths?
  • GRACEThese are three of the existing services we looked at when designing Book Hunters. At a minimum, if you are planning this service, be sure to look at Williamsburg’s service, since they started this. If you start your own service, be sure to contact them as they keep track of similar services.We also looked at Edmonton’s and Carmel Clay’s services. Edmonton actually has three separate forms customers can use – fiction, nonfiction, and kids. In both cases, we took a lot from their questionnaires as they were shorter and simpler than Williamsburg’s.The thing to take away is you need to create a questionnaire that will work for your service and give your reader’s advisors the best information to help the customer. The other thing we learned is that most libraries don’t make the service readily available, which we’ll discuss more when we get to publicity.
  • GRACEOur Book Hunters service is based on the Looking for a Good Book service of Williamsburg Regional Library. In the service, which debuted in 2004, they developed an extensive questionnaire that could be filled out on paper or online. This created a profile of the customer’s reading interests. From the profile, the librarians then created custom book lists for the customer.In our case, we had been considering this service for several years, but kept putting it off due to lack of staff and time, in other words we kept saying “someday”. We decided to stop looking to tomorrow last year and dove in with the service debuting November 1, 2010. We’ll be looking at how we developed the service and some of the considerations you might have if you decide to do the same.
  • GRACEThe primary question for anyone starting an online reader’s advisory service is who is going to staff it. We knew we had to put together a team from throughout our system. For us, the primary requirement was not “is this person a librarian?” it was (and is) “is this person a reader?” While not as important, some technical ability is needed to fill out the Word template and use LibraryThing. We had about 15 people volunteer to be in our initial group.Our goal for the service was for staff to be able to do this from their work place and have minimal meetings. In preparing for the service, we had one meeting, during which we surveyed the group about their reading interests – this became the spreadsheet you see on the slide. It helps us when we assign requests came up with a name for the service and finalized the questionnaireWe then set up a four hour training for the team. The first half of the training covered genres and appeal terminology since we had people of all experience levels participating. For this part of the training, we borrowed heavily from Novelist’s Reader’s Advisory Training by Neal Wyatt, which we highly recommend. The second half was nuts and bolts including using Novelist, LibraryThing, filling out the template and writing annotations. As a final exercise, we had groups look at sample profiles to find books.When we started the service, we honestly had no idea how many requests we would get. We heard from other libraries that they got 8-10 a week. When we started getting a flood of requests (10+ a day) we knew we needed to add more people, so 2 months into the service, we added about 10 more people. With this group, rather than broadcasting another open request, we sought out specific people to fill specific needs. We currently have about 20 Book Hunters.
  • LINDAIf we were going to offer this new service, we wanted to be sure people found it. Before we began this service, we pulled together the team to brainstorm ideas about making this service successful for HCPL. Part of our background work was to visit other libraries’ sites to borrow from the best, which we most certainly did in putting together the form(s). But, we did notice generic names without graphics in most places and in some it was difficult to find the service at all, because it was buried deep.So, we came up with the name Book Hunters, to emphasize books PLUS people. Since we don’t have a graphic artist on staff, we used Meez to make our first adventurer mascot. We made sure to blog about the service, have a banner on the website, and have a block on every page, in addition to putting it on Facebook and Twitter. We created posters for each branch that promote genre authors, but feature a print version of the Book Hunters mascot and link. Our most recent project is business cards for library staff to hand out and bookmarks with a QR code that take customers to the Book Hunters form on the mobile version of our website.Promoting and branding the serviceMascotNamePut it everywhere on your website – DON’T HIDE IT!Mobile version & QR CodePosters, bookmarks, business cards
  • GRACEWhen developing our questionnaire, we looked at services from a variety of libraries. The questionnaires ranged from the very in-depth one that Williamsburg uses, and which is the basis from many services, to bare bones – who are you and what do you want. We took elements from a variety of forms to create the one we use.Some libraries offer this service both online and as a print form. Due to the size of our system, we never really considered a print form. However, if you are a single location or a small system, this may be something to consider as it would reach readers who are not online. In designing our questionnaire, we felt that in addition to asking what the customer wants it also helps to know titles and/or authors they have enjoyed. For example, if they say “I want some mysteries,” that’s a huge genre. So knowing that they like Sue Grafton (who writes about a hard-boiled mysteries featuring a female PI) or Donna Andrews (who writes funny, cozy mysteries featuring a blacksmith turned amateur detective) helps narrow it down.Another question we have found invaluable is Age. During the short time we’ve had the service, we fiddled with the age options several times. When we started, we did not anticipate the interest from children, young adults, and their parents, so we had 19 and under as an option. We now have 5 and under and then 2 year increments to age 19. We have found the more specific you are for youth requests, the easier it is to tailor the recommendations.Other important questions include: Format (we have a fair number of CD only or eBook only or eAudio only customers) What types of books (adults, young adults, or children) Genre – Knowing the genres people like helps narrow down the selection of books to suggest. We are still trying to better define Urban Fiction for customers as it sometimes confuses people. For those of you who don’t know, Urban Fiction is relatively young genre that generally features African-American characters and falls into one of three sub-genres: Street Lit, with a focus on street life, drugs, and violence; Drama Lit, focusing on human relationships; and Urban erotica, which focuses on sex.
  • LINDAHow to assign (we assign, other’s let their RAs pick assignments)Tracking – http://todoist.comAssigning – go with expertiseAs we’ve mentioned previously, before we began this service, we contacted other libraries about how they “made it work.” Other locations allow RA staff to pick the requests they want to work on. To be fair and efficient, we decided to use our master list of team genre specialties and assign/match requests to Hunters as they come in each day. Of course, we don’t always have a Hunter/Expertise match, in which case we go with who is available and count on them to use the tools to assist them with less familiar genres.Initially, we used a paper table of Book Hunters to track assignments, but as the service grew, we turned to a free online tool – – to track assignments and due dates, which has been invaluable. All of the Hunters are listed by name and we are able to see at a glance who is available for assignments and get an alert when something is overdue.
  • GRACEBecause we wanted a branded look to the service, we set up a Word template for our Book Hunters to use when preparing a list of recommendations. At the top, we have text about the list including a link to our catalog and how to follow-up –this text is locked and cannot be edited. We then have the list set-up where the Book Hunter can click and type and everything is correctly formatted. The template includes space for: Their name (however they want to list it) The customer’s name An optional personal message. For example, many Book Hunters say something like “I hope you find something you like.” We also use it for special information, for example “All titles listed are available on CD.” Ten titles – We list author, title, an annotation, and include cover art. We have found 10 to be the right number for us.
  • LINDAThe hard part of the job isn’t over when you’ve identified the books you want to recommend. Now you’ve got to convince the customer that they want to read them. Annotations sell the book to the customer. The originators of online RA, WRL, told us that their staff write their own annotations, however we knew that would be difficult for us with the size of our system and the potential volume. We knew we could use catalog summaries we purchase as a starting point, but we also contacted Novelist for permission to use their summaries, which we received. With a summary as a starting point, we enhance the description with personal comments and appeal terms, such as fast-paced, heartwarming, suspenseful, and magical.
  • LindaWhat strategies do you use when creating a list from the customer’s submitted information? One thing we’ve learned is that you can tell a great deal by the authors people list as favorites, often a great deal more than what they’ve told you through the rest of the form. If the customer only tells us genres of interest, we provide a variety of recent releases in those genres. If the customer only wants items on CD or eBooks, we know that our selection is going to be much more limited. Sometimes, you just have to do the best you can with the information you’re given whether it’s a confusing message (a nice romance like Brokeback Mountain) or no message at all (I want something that’s not boring.).We only place titles on the list if they are available through Harris County Public Library. If there is a particular strategy or message that the Book Hunter would like to share with the customer, we encourage them to use the optional message field on the list template.
  • LINDA I don’t know if we began with expectations about author popularity, but Janet Evanovich and Nicholas Sparks seem to have the largest fan bases of the requests we have received. We debated whether or not we would feature children’s RA, but the demand for it showed us that we need to cultivate that expertise on our team. Nothing can substitute for having read the book when it comes to matching the customer’s language tolerance, amount of sexual detail they are willing to read, or special preferences like the customer who didn’t want a book that features the death of a child.
  • GRACEOne of the things we had discussed when setting up the service, was how to manage the titles and annotations we were suggesting. We didn’t want to use a Word document or spreadsheet. We wanted to use a database, which would make the titles and annotations more accessible for use by other Book Hunters. After looking at various options, we decided to use one of the existing book services on the Internet. These had the advantage of an existing database structure designed for books. We looked at several services, including Good Reads, but ultimately decided to use LibraryThing as it’s tagging capabilities were stronger than other services, which provides better access for retrieval purposes.By using LibraryThing, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each annotation as we can search by title and copy the annotation for use on another list. Another, somewhat unexpected, benefit is that we use it to find tagged read-a-likes for our most popular authors and/or topics (e.g. like Harry Potter) and have in some cases built entire lists based on the content we have in LibraryThing. This last point is especially important for those of you without access to Novelist. Just because you don’t have it, doesn’t mean you can’t offer a service like this.We paid for a LibraryThing life time membership ($25)We use their database structureAnnotations are put in private commentsWe track which users have received the recommendation in the comments sectionTagged read-a-likes (e.g. like Janet Evanovich)Searchable We did consider other services like Good Reads but found LT to be more compatible with our needs.
  • LINDAWhen readers want another list, they can submit a follow-up request rather than filling out a whole new form. The follow-up form is much shorter. Other than asking for contact information, it asks for favorite/least favorite books from your past suggestions and more about their reading tastes. We have also recently added “Do you want another list – yes or no,” since, strangely enough, this was something that wasn’t being made clear.One thing you will need to figure out beforehand is your list archives. To assist with follow-up requests, we store all requests and lists in a private shared Google Docs account with recognizable file names that include the customer’s name and the date of their request. On public areas, such as LibraryThing, we use first name only and date. When a follow-up request comes in, we can assign it and easily attach past forms and lists to give the Hunter all of the information they will need. Another area that takes some getting used to is recognizing that ALL feedback is good. This is an area of challenge for me, an obsessive person who’s sensitive to criticism. If a customer requests another list or responds at all, it’s a win for the service. We have one customer who writes to us and really tells it like it is – what she liked, what she thought was silly, what she thought was unappealing and what she thought was unreadable. But, you know what, she’s currently on her fourth list.
  • GRACEWhen we started the service on November 1, 2010, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Over the past six months we have had 892 requests and 48 follow-up requests, far more than we imagined. Do keep in mind that we have a service population of over 1.5 million and 26 branches.
  • GRACEThe service, like libraries in general, has more use by women and girls vs. men and boys.
  • GRACEWe discussed earlier how knowing the age of the customer is invaluable. This is a modified breakdown of the ages of people using the service. The important thing I’d like to point out is that about one quarter of our users are youth under the age of 18.Book TypesAdult591Young Adult363Children's103
  • GRACEThe wider variety of reading interests represented among your reader’s advisors the better. When we added new people a few months into the service, we specifically sought out more people with experience with children’s, young adult, and romance. While anyone can handle a request, we’ve found having an interest in the subject to be a plus. In addition, while Novelist can be your best friend, it is far from perfect. Having an expert can help mitigate when recommendations in Novelist fail (for a good example of this, look up Gone with the Wind, and see what they recommend).We are still seeking more genre specialists to become Book Hunters, particularly in fantasy, science fiction, and urban fiction.
  • LINDAFor library and book people, this is a service that provides it’s own reward. It’s something we love to do. Recently, we had some technical difficulties with our website that resulted in a decrease in requests. Instead of being glad for the time off, we had team members calling us to say “did I do something wrong, I want more assignments.”More importantly, this is concrete proof that we’re on the right track. These are happy customers who value the new service we’re providing.
  • LINDAChange as you go – ethnic/race examplePlan for growth - be ready to expandConnect personally as much as is possible virtuallyTalk to the team, keep them invested, responsive, and enthusiastic. Talk with the rest of the staff – they sell the service. Anybody can be a reader’s advisor. It does not take a degree. Must more important is level of interest and that they are a reader.
  • How many of you are now considering offering an online reader’s advisory service?(Show of Hands)
  • Personal Reading Consultants: Blending Technology and Touch

    1. 1. Blending Technology and TouchPERSONAL READING CONSULTANTS
    2. 2. BRIDGING TRADITION AND THE FUTURE The Five Laws of Library Science 1. Books are for use. 2. Every reader his [or her] book. 3. Every book its reader. 4. Save the time of the reader. 5. The library is a growing organism. - S. Ranganathan
    3. 3. WHAT IS READER’S ADVISORY? RA service broadly defined means helping readers find what they want by recommending specific titles … RA is based on the philosophy that reading has intrinsic value and that readers are best served by a good collection and knowledgeable staff who are able to guide them in pursuing their interests. – Introduction to Library Public Services by Evans/Amodeo/Carter 1999 p. 41
    5. 5. SURVEY OTHER SERVICES Looking for a Good Book – (Williamsburg Regional Library) - and-reading/adults/find-a-good-book Personalized Book List (Edmonton Public Library) - book-list Personalized Reader Lists (Carmel Clay Public Library) -
    6. 6. HOW DOES IT WORK? A Book Hunter Customer Customer Creates aSubmits Request Receives List Personalized List Customer Images © JupiterImages
    7. 7. STAFFING
    8. 8. PUBLICITY
    11. 11. THE TEMPLATE
    12. 12. ANNOTATIONS What would you get if you combined a hard-boiled detective novel with a tale of fantasy and magic? Something like the offbeat Dresden files. In this first book, readers are introduced to Harry Dresden, a wizard with a consulting practice in modern-day Chicago. Dresden’s profession offers him little money, lots of mockery, the suspicion of his magical colleagues, and plenty of danger.
    13. 13. FROM FORM TO LIST
    14. 14. TIME
    15. 15. SURPRISES
    16. 16. LIBRARY THING
    20. 20. AGE
    21. 21. GENRE
    22. 22. Thank you very much for this Wow! This is great! Now Ithoughtful booklist. I look wish I had a few weeksforward to reading them off just for reading!all, and I am impressed with Thanks! - Laurayour service. – Tina First time using book hunters and I love it. So lucky to live close-by such Whoever chose an awesome library – the books for me Tamara did an excellent I cannot thank you enough! This is job. - Dan the most wonderful thing you do and I am going to RAVE to everyone I know about the Harris Cty Public Library. Thank you so very much! - Barbara FEEDBACK
    23. 23. LESSONS LEARNED Flexibility Scalability Personalization Communication Enthusiasm
    24. 24. OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES Books are the best thing that ever happened. I want books that are thick and book experts have said are awesome and of course it has to have dragons, cats, horses and just a good book. That’s all I want!!!!!! - Celeste age 10 Image © JupiterImages
    25. 25. QUESTIONS
    26. 26. CONTACTGrace Lillevig Linda StevenseBranch Librarian Coordinator of Marketing &