Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Care and Feeding of Your Local Librarian

"The Linebaugh Public Library System's purpose is to provide you the freedom to discover and the resources to explore a lifelong love of reading and learning."

I love my library's mission statement. It really gets to the heart of why most of us enter the profession, either as a librarian or a paraprofessional. A lifelong love of reading and learning is something library folks treasure and we want to share that with our communities.

I had planned on covering all of the useful things libraries can do for working writers. But as I wrote about our thoughtfully constructed collections and our database subscriptions and the knowledgeable staff who provides premium research and readers' services, I had an epiphany: writers and librarians are kindred spirits, dedicated to words and information. Most of you already utilize and celebrate library resources in the creation of your work. If you're published, you've probably made some appearances at branches in your area. But did you realize that there are library-based promotion opportunities beyond the book signing?

Your secret weapon for local promotion is the desk clerk.

Okay, I have to admit, I'm a little biased. I work the front lines every day, and perhaps sometimes I feel that what I do is more important than it really is. But let's think strategically for a minute. We come in contact with almost every patron who walks in the door, even if only offer a greeting. Branches in my system can service anywhere from 300-1,500 people (sometimes more during the summer) every day. That's a lot of people.

Let's take this a little bit further. Even though some of these people come in for internet access, faxing, general research, etc, a goodly number of them are fiction readers and most of them like to book talk. These patrons want to know what we're reading and what we think about what they're reading. They request books, they recommend books, and solicit recommendations from us. Library staff handsells as much as booksellers do. For example, one of my favorite fantasy writers is Kristen Britain. I handsell Green Rider to my fantasy patrons when they come to me for recommendations or during a conversation, and the circulation numbers, when compared to similar titles released around the same time, reflect our effectiveness.

Green Rider by Kristen Britain- 76
Blood of the Fold by Terry Goodkind - 42
Firebird by Mercedes Lackey - 25
Acorna: the unicorn girl by Anne McCaffrey - 34

During readers' advisory sessions and book talk conversations, we introduce our patrons to writers they might not have picked up on their own and, frequently, that turns into later sales. A good number of my regulars try before they buy. They'll only borrow what they're not sure about and buy the authors they know they're going to like. Once they find you, they'll buy you if they deem you worthy for their shelves at home.

The bottom line is, if we know you and we like your books, we're going to tell people about them. It's our job. We'll recommend anything to a patron if we think they'll like it, but we can't shut up about the authors we know and like. And with the advent of Web 2.0 - blogs, podcasts, wikis, LibraryThing, social networking sites and all that fun stuff - we have the opportunity to reach so many more people both in our communities and outside of them. Just google Nancy Pearl or Wendy Crutcher to see the potential for web-wide readers' advisory.

So, how do you get our attention? How do you get on our recommendation lists? How do you get us to handsell you? To talk about you? To book you for panels and signings? Well, you have to seduce us.

  • Get to know us better. I have a core group of regulars that I see at least once a week. I know who likes to cook, whose taste in historicals runs to regency, and which woman prefers law enforcement heroes in her romantic suspense as opposed to military men. I also know my writers, published and non. The ones I see regularly, the ones I have positive encounters with every week are in the forefront of my mind and are frequently the first ones I think of when a patron is looking for something in the genre in which they write.
  • Spend some quality time with us. A couple of volunteer hours a week is frequently worth more to a library than money. Library staff is doing more with less these days, and having someone reliable to help the pages shelfread, notify patrons about available holds, and doing other odd jobs really helps. When you regularly volunteer, you form relationships with the staff - you become a part of the library family. And it's difficult to find a more loyal, enthusiastic group of people than library people.
  • Make us feel special. Libraries are always in need of supplies. Sponsoring an activity or providing programming will get you a huge public thank you and some warm squishy feelings from the staff (who will, more than likely be more than willing to talk about how nifty you are!). And not only will your kindness be noticed by the staff, it will draw attention from the storytime moms whose children benefit from the crafts you provided or the patrons who check out the books you donated to the collection.

Don't forget to see other people once in a while, though. It's difficult to forge relationships with staff in every library. But we all travel. Planning a book tour? Include some library stops. Going on vacation or to a convention? Pop in and say hi. Sign copies of your books. Maybe leave some bookmarks with the desk staff (because the patrons go through bookmarks like crazy!) A ten-minute visit can go a long way.

Now it's your turn. I'd love to know about your favorite library. Are you a regular patron, or do you just visit once in a while while you're in town? What makes it special?

Reading for Writers series:

Series Coming Soon: Abusing the TBR Pile


Helen Scott Taylor said...

Interesting, Mel. Reading about your libraries makes me wonder if ours in the UK work in the same way. I'm not sure they do. I've not seen things like bookmarks available in my local library and although the librarians have helped me with non-fiction research, I've never had them recommend a fiction title to me.

I'll have to do some research!

Oh and thanks for the fantasy recommendation.

Mel Hiers said...

No problem! :-)

I'm very interested in the differences between libraries here and there! Most public libraries here are designed for the general reader. Fiction, cookbooks, diet books, and self help circulate the most at mine. Readers' advisory is a really common service. There are courses in it when one gets her MLS degree. Most public library clerks learn it on the job.

Academic libraries like the ones attached to the universities and the state archives tend more toward scholarly research and they don't do as much advisory. But the staff there are wizards with facts!

Savanna Kougar said...

Mel, that was fascinating. Being out on the prairie, library access is limited! And if I could do the 'get to know you' signings and programs, I would. But being severely allergic to perfumes, cigarette smoke, etc. -- being around groups just doesn't work. However, the bookmarks are an excellent idea -- for the over 18 crowd.
My favorite library! When I was writing a medieval love story (yay! no footnotes!) for my final paper in a college Medieval history class -- yes, my professor agreed, and I got top honors for it -- given this was before Ren Festival, I reseached for the details of medieval life down at the UMKC, University of Missouri, Kansas City library -- boy, I luved that place!

Mel Hiers said...

Heya, Sav! :-)

I got to work at my university library when I was in college - Indiana State. I'd never seen a place so big! I was a tiny town girl. I could spend a whole shift shelfreading on the basement floor and never run into another person.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Great post Mel! I really put my local library to work during the ATIV contest. Their Community Coordinator was instrumental in helping me get the word out and generating votes. No, I didn't win, but by using that resource, I helped forge a tie between me and the library staff. I've worked on several book sales and other fun events that further cements that tie. I am actually a patron of two great libraries, the downtown SLC library which won an award, and the Moab city library which won best small library in America. My father is the chairman of the library board in Moab so I often lend a hand when I'm in town to visit him.

I truly appreciate the magic of libraries since I love books and when I walk in I have this fantasy that all those books are mine! And I always ask the staff for recommendations. I've discovered some of my favorite writers this way so with your helpful tips, hopefully I can get my future books on the recommendation list! :)