19 May 2014

Reader's Advisory Unconference

On Friday I traveled with Anna and another local colleague to the Darien, CT Library to attend a Reader's Advisory Unconference set up by Stephanie, Darien's head of Reader's Advisory. I have attended an unconference once before at Darien, on Programming, which was a big hit, and I expected no less for this one. As I work on planning continuing education for my new job at the Mass Library System, reader's advisory is definitely one skill I want to bring to librarians across the state. From the RA 101 sessions and genre overview webinars by Joyce Saricks we have been offering, and the start of the Western MA Reader's Advisory Round Table, it is definitely popular with library staff.

After a somewhat slow commute down to CT, we arrived in time to listen to the end of author Emily St. John Mandel's talk on reading and libraries, and heard her read from her new book Station Eleven. Then the voting began!



We had all submitted topics during registration, and Stephanie had us each use post-its to vote for three topics after asking if we had any additional requests. The top nine topics would be discussed during the different sessions of the day, three in each time slot. I was very grateful that only two topics I wanted to hear were scheduled at the same time; however, I decided to focus on those that would let me hear what library staff were looking to learn.

My first session was on Revitalizing Book Groups. We had a couple Darien Library staff members along to take notes and help lead the conversation. Topics such as Books in a Bag, topical/genre book groups, and supplying outside book groups were covered. One librarian talked about a Twitter Book Group that she knew about, another discussed short story book groups that were always full. Setting up outside the library, whether at a pub, a senior home, or bringing titles to a soccer game for the regular group of moms showed that libraries are not just going with the same "every month in the library" scenario.

Then it was off to RA and Social Media. This one was interesting as the discussion was a little hard to pull out of library staff. There was definitely talk, but it seemed that (in my opinion) most librarians were there to see how to make it work. Social media is still tricky for a lot of libraries: who is doing it, when it is done, where it is done -- all of this contributes to an online profile that is just one more activity, albeit a very important one in this day and age. Important takeaways included: scheduling through clients such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite can help a library use a single block of time to post, focusing on one or two areas instead of trying to be on top of every new social stream, and making sure to find ways to create two-way engagement online.

Also, in the lessons learned category:


The final session I attended was Getting Staff Excited about Reader's Advisory. This, to me, is really important, not only as a trainer but for those within libraries trying to encourage staff involvement. We talked about staff genre study groups, although some noted that sometimes those that are considered key staff -- especially those at the circulation desks -- were the ones who did not consider it important, or "part of their job." There has been an attitude that reader's advisory is a reference staff issue, but most agreed that any and all library staff should be able to perform RA, and hopefully feel comfortable giving suggestions to patrons who ask for them.


After the last session, we gathered together to give quick snapshots of each session, which was nice for people like me who could not clone themselves in time to attend them all. My overall takeaway was that while there does not seem to be any new trend waiting around the corner for reader's advisory, it is something library staff are finding to really be entrenched in their work, and that it is an important part of customer service, engaging the community, and outreach.

We had a lot of people follow AND contribute on social media: our Twitter hashtag was #rauncon, and Stephanie plans to collect them into a Storify. There will also be notes -- and from some sessions, book lists -- on the blog. It was terrific to be able to meet a lot of colleagues that I knew from social media, share ideas (and lunch!), and bring ideas back home.