Town Hall Meeting | Day of Dialog 2015

DOD2015slugThere’s nothing like a Town Hall Meeting to get ideas flowing, and the event at LJ’s Day of Dialog was no exception. The roomful of librarians from across the country offered a wide variety of viewpoints, with some gentle guidance from moderator Barbara Hoffert and meeting leader Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) branch manager, cofounder of LibraryReads, 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker, and self-proclaimed “book pusher.”

The theme of the afternoon was advisory and outreach—both in-house and outside the library walls. From New York Public Library’s (NYPL) new reader services department, to Baltimore County Public Library’s (BCPL) “Between the Covers” blog, to the Massachusetts Library System’s “5 in 15” book talks, where librarians come in and give 15-minute themed book talks about five books—two main titles and three backlist—to inspire library staff to talk about backlist titles, the ideas and examples flew from all corners of the auditorium.

Caption here on images from the Town Hall meeting. At top, Nesbitt and Hoffert listen as Robert Hubsher from Ramapo Catskill Library System makes a point. Next, close view of Nesbitt, who stepped in last minute to lead the meeting. Other shots show crowd involvement and approval. Photos ©2015 William Neumann

THE TOWN HALL MEETING gets people talking. At top, Robin Nesbitt and Barbara Hoffert listen as Robert Hubsher from Ramapo Catskill Library System makes a point. Middle, Nesbitt (l.), who stepped in last minute to lead the meeting, poses a question, while an attendee (r.) offers tips from her library. Bottom, the crowd applauds the suggestions they hear. Photos ©2015 William Neumann

Much Ado About Advisory

Cutting to the chase, Hoffert asked the room, “So—how do you make advisory sexy?”

The answer, it seems, is to make advisory personal. The District of Columbia Public Library’s newly launched Read Feed service is one example. It includes a lot of highly personalized reading lists, enabling patrons to write in as well as suggestions from librarians, with a lot of hangout spaces.

Lynn Lobash, manager of reader services at NYPL, recommended Tumblr as a good community for readers. She uses it to reblog content from independent publishers’ sites, blogs such as The Millions, LJ, and other content providers as a good way to jump-start NYPL’s reading community. In addition, she has just begun using the interface that NPR popularized with its Book Concierge to make staff picks live and interactive. NYPL’s use of multimedia has proved popular—for example, for Poetry Month during each day of April, staff members each picked a poem and were then recorded reading it out loud and discussing why they picked it. And on the analog side, NYPL’s recently opened outdoor reading room has posted a physical board for people to note what they’re reading. Lobash was excited and inspired, she said, that NYPL had decided it needed a division all its own for reader services.

Nesbitt agreed. “How many libraries have dedicated reader services departments?” she wondered, asking for a show of hands:  “Not many.” It takes a real commitment of leadership, she added.

The Seattle Public Library’s (SPL) “Your Next 5 Books” program is “enormously popular,” said Chris Higashi, program manager for SPL’s Washington Center for the Book. Readers fill out a form describing books and/or authors they’ve enjoyed, and a librarian will suggest—and describe—five new titles. To keep it even more personal, members of SPL’s advisory team sign the recommendations with their first names, forging a real connection with their readers.

Douglas Beatty of BCPL Mobile Library Services has put together “Doug’s World,” a series of book-recommendation YouTube videos for the library’s media services department. Beatty, who does improv comedy on the side, picks a theme—“books set in locations that were colder than Baltimore last winter,” for example—and highlights titles that readers might have missed. He also contributes to BCPL’s review pages but feels that he doesn’t get his personality across as strongly when writing. “But when you put a camera in front of me,” he said, “I can really sell a book.”

Backlist Brainstorming

“How do you get people to read more than best sellers?” Nesbitt asked the room.

Lobash at NYPL posts readalikes for the top five New York Times best sellers on the system’s website. She also recommended “awareness training” for library staff, which takes many forms: asking publishers to come in and do 20- to 25-minute book buzzes for upcoming titles and defining the distinctions and tropes in various genres as defined by the American Library Association Reference and User Services Association (ALA RUSA) award-winning books. Lobash also formed a Google group for anyone with an interest in readers’ advisory and throws out an RA question every week to the group at large. As a result, she said, “the staff feels charged and involved.” They’re talking about books, she pointed out, which is at least part of the reason they gravitated toward this job in the first place.

Lucy Lockley, collection development manager for the St. Charles City–County Library District, MO, put together a book challenge where staff members create their own blogs and write about books they’ve read, offering a prize for the library that posts the most. It’s similar to regular online staff picks, she noted, but “with a little competition.” Lockley also finds Pinterest useful; each month, the library picks a genre—for example, romance in February—and posts four to five titles each week on its board. It’s a good way to aggregate titles, she said, but the drawback is that readers have to sign in to Pinterest to see them.

Inside, Outside, Outreach

Nesbitt then asked about author visits, and a variety of models came up. Kerri Morgan, program and events supervisor at Douglas County Libraries, CO, said that she likes to find venues tailored to the presenter or author—noting that their district had the funds for creative programming.

Chapple Langemack, adult programming coordinator at Kitsap Regional Library, WA, runs a “literary saloon”—setting up two authors to have a discussion in a local brew pub.

Finally, Nesbitt cut to the chase. “What we’ve been circling around,” she said, “is the giant question we’ve all been wrestling with: How do we stay relevant to our communities?” Rather than any broad philosophical treatises, respondents had small answers that added up to a bigger picture of community engagement in unexpected places: a focus on cookbooks in ESL classes for food servers who don’t speak English and parents who want to learn about healthy cooking for their children; helping to vet movies for seniors; and sending librarians into people’s homes or other venues for book talks.

An Alaskan librarian described holding weddings at the library “because it was so beautiful,” adding “Libraries have always been a safe haven, and that’s what we have to continue to be.”

And it’s not just the patrons libraries need to address. If trustees don’t buy into what you’re doing, said a New York State librarian, they can become an obstacle to innovation. Many of them are old-fashioned book lovers who will struggle against “everything that’s not a ‘book,’” he said, and they’re the ones who can raise needed much money. “Don’t forget your trustees, please!” he exhorted.

From readers to authors to trustees, it seems that everyone got their fair share at Day of Dialog’s Town Hall Meeting—and every attendee came away with new tools and a little extra inspiration.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.