Monday 21 July 2014

“Can you tell me why so many wars and battles were fought on National Historic sites?”

(The following presentation was part of a recent staff development workshop on the subject of Readers’ Advisory for Seniors .  It has been condensed.)

I’ll admit it – one of the things that scares me most is the concept of Readers’ Advisory. My heart starts racing, my palms get sweaty! For a few seconds, I immediately feel like the librarian who has lost her way. How are we supposed to know about every genre, author and topic in the library? It’s impossible. Then I pull myself back into reality knowing that even librarians who are voracious readers know that they can’t read everything.  

Readers’ Advisory is a critical personal library service.   Our patrons come in for our friendly and helpful service. They want to get in and out with something to read. When they find just the right book and have a wonderful reading experience, they want to visit the library more often. Our best marketing tool is a satisfied customer who spreads the word about the wonderful service that he/she received at the library.

We try to be welcoming and helpful so that our readers leave our libraries with what they came in for, and often more.  Approachability is the key.  Except during the crazily busy times, we can make sure that patrons understand that we have the time to talk about books and reading with them for a few minutes. We want them to feel comfortable coming to us for help.

Sometimes, people are lonely and like to talk about lots of different things, so we try to be respectful but not stray off topic for very long. That said, some older adults crave kindness and human contact and the library may be one of the few places they encounter these on a regular basis.  We look at this as a customer need and understand that we may have to spend more time working with older adults to help them find what they need. This isn’t always possible when working alone or during very busy periods but we should always be aware of its place in the customer service skill set.

 One reason older adults are often so appreciative when receiving good or excellent customer service is that in today’s fast-paced world, service staff can be impatient with anyone who needs extra attention. It’s important for librarians working with seniors to remember that becoming an older adult can be a challenging and stressful time.  Apart from the pre-school crowd, no other group is as openly appreciative when they receive the help they need.   They are also quite likely to point out how young we are on a satisfyingly regular basis!

When people don’t want to search our shelves because they’re in a hurry or because they simply don’t know what they want, they come to us for help. We are the human version of a search engine and we’re supposed to magically produce the perfect books for them in a matter of minutes. And do you know what? We do just that every single day that we work!

So, when people ask questions like:

“Do you have any books with photos of dinosaurs?”
“Can you tell me why so many wars and battles were fought on National Historic sites?”
“Do you have a list of the books I’ve read?”

Then the question: “Can you help me find something to read?”  can be a welcome one!

Sue Aldred
Branch Manager
Rosa M. Harvey Library, Middleton

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