If Books are Our Brand

If you haven’t read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill, the founder, CEO, and President of Envirosell, you really should. So much of what he writes about consumer behavior translates into our library world as well. (Interestingly, Francine Fialkoff, editor-in-chief of Library Journal also mentioned Paco in the May 4, 2010 issue). While technology seemed to be the focus of most libraries in the 1990s, in public libraries all over the country the book in all its formats is now back with a vengeance! Today most libraries offer an assortment of services to patrons, however we still remain the only entity that provides free access to books.

Most public library folk know that our biggest product is the book in all its formats.  For many of our users that is “our brand.” Books are our strength, yet do we aggressively market that strength to our customers (consumers/patrons/guests/readers)?  Are we going to let online giants like Amazon steal our thunder? Sure they have incredible online sales, but they can’t really tell the consumer what they might like about the titles they buy.  What Amazon does is match buying patterns of their customers to create lists.  These are not read-alike lists, nor is this readers’ advisory! Amazon doesn’t understand, nor provide readers advisory services to their customers. We do.

As librarians you play an important role in creating enthusiasm for books which is something your patrons have come to expect and appreciate.  It is not always an easy task to connect a reader with a book, but because of our training and experience we do this job better than anyone. We form relationships with our patrons and this provides us with a sense of what they like to read so that we are ready to match them to the next book each time they visit us. 

We Have to Market Our Brand Better

There are so many surveys that report the reason most often given by our customers for coming to the library is recreational reading. Yet how often have you seen signage in a library that encourages patrons to ask questions about books? Have you seen any that directs patrons to services to help readers connect to books?  You might find that some of our libraries have signs that read “Information,” but traditionally we think of this area as a place to get an answer to a reference question. Providing Readers’ Advisory services is one example of marketing your collections.

We need to take our marketing one step further. We must begin to incorporate RA tools on our web sites to meet the needs of the 20-35 year-olds who don’t necessarily use our libraries in the traditional way.  This age group is more likely to visit our web site to download items and place holds. They may stop in to pick up their reserved item and perhaps attend a program of interest.  If we want to attract this group we need to start thinking of ways to incorporate web 2.0 technologies in our marketing strategy in order to create a more dynamic web presence. More on this topic in our summer issue. 

Why RA is Good for Your Library

Wouldn’t we all like to have our libraries perceived as the focal point of the community or school, teaming with visitors who can’t wait to partake of what we have to offer? If our usage figures are high, it demonstrates that our services are essential to our community/school. This is directly linked to our financial support. One way that we have of knowing how successful we are at “promoting our product” is looking at our use patterns, and these patterns are generally found in the numbers.

RA is a terrific way to promote your library. Great conversations about books and authors; matching people to the stories they enjoy, and doing it with enthusiasm brings people back time and time again. Satisfied customers out in the community are your best advocates. The process of sharing books with other readers, helps us to become better acquainted with the people we serve. Some of you may say that many readers do not want to talk to librarians about what they read. You might also think—We are so busy now when will we find the time to do this? These are the types of issues we hope to deal with in this enewsletter in the coming months.

Learning RA

For those of you who are interesting in becoming better at connecting readers to books, you have six wonderful assets within reach.

  • Webinars from Booklist. Go to http://www.booklistonline.com/ to see future events and look at some of the archived programs. On May 6th “Crime Fiction Past and Present” had 597 participants from all over the country!
  • The professional collection at the Maine State Library has a solid collection of books on readers’ advisory services for children, teens, and adults; plus a number of great books on individual genres.
  • NoveList has a wealth of useful information that will help improve your skills.  On the right side of the page you will see under special resources Readers’ Advisory Toolbox.
  • Join the Readers’ Advisory listserv for an opportunity to share ideas with your colleagues around the state.
  • Join us this summer for ”Books, Lives and Videotape” a Readers' Advisory Presentation with NoveList's creator, Duncan Smith. This full day workshop will be help in two location: August 11th at the Bangor Public Library and August 12th at the Topsham Public Library.