Monday, January 7, 2013

Reading Wildly: Our Staff's Journey to Great Readers' Advisory

CC: Stacy Ann
Or, Is Reading Widely Essential?

Recently, I put out a question to my Twitter followers. I was thinking about how I could improve my staff's Readers' Advisory skills, knowing that some of my staff members don't read children's books for pleasure (whether because of reading preferences or a perceived lack of leisure time or other reasons I might not think about). I put out the following question:

@abbylibrarian: Can you give good readers' advisory without reading widely yourself? Please discuss.

I got many, many responses (and here are some):

@LizB: theoretically, yes, but it requires reading the professional lit & being v. good at using resources like NoveList

@amyeileenk: ...even great resources like NoveList can be misleading; libs need personal background w a book

@classicsixbooks: Yes and no. I don't hesitate to rec a book I haven't read, but I am up on the background. Also rec books I didn't like!

@ReadingChick: you cant read everything, can you? but a staff that reads widely & openly discusses & shares the books they're rdg is good service

@bookgirlsb: absolutely! knowing how to do an RA interview, loving book reviews and reading lots of first chapters helps.

@catatonichic: I think you could GIVE 'good' RA, but I don't believe you could give great RA

@definitelyted: Without being too knee-jerk, I think the answer is an emphatic "no way."

@klmpeace: as a librarian who doesn't love to read chapter books, I have damn good RA skills. you need to know how to find a kid a good book and that doesn't mean having read a ton of them

@2nickels: I say yes if you're keeping up with reviews and talking to people about books a lot, but it's easier to do well if you read.

@catagator: you can do it with good tools but idk if it's as STRONG if the librarian isn't a reader.

As the discussion went on, it became clear that the general consensus was that librarians can perform good (or maybe adequate?) readers' advisory without reading widely if they are using professional tools like reviews, Novelist, book recommendations from colleagues, and other resources. But they can perform better readers' advisory (more personalized, more confident, more enthusiastic) if they are reading widely (and by "widely" I mean reading a variety of genres, formats, and reading levels). 

For me, personally, I find it hard to do readers' advisory if I haven't read the books I'm recommending (although I love the idea of reading lots of first chapters...). I find it really hard to remember any details about books that I haven't read and written about (which is one reason I blog and keep up my GoodReads account!). That's not to say I've never done that or that I never recommend books I don't like.

And also, I would think that keeping up with reviews and professional resources consistently enough to provide good readers' advisory is at least as much work as reading the children's books themselves. 

My next question to Twitter also yielded some great discussion. I asked if anyone had run or participated in a staff reading program designed to expand horizons and encourage staff to read widely. My first thought was to offer a program like the Summer Reading Club that we do for kids, offering some kind of prize to staff who complete it, but that was met with some strong opposition: 

@himissjulie: I don't think giving out prizes is the way to go. It's professional development. it's part of ALSC core competencies.

@Muffintruck: Everyone has aspects of their jobs that reach beyond work hours and time spent on-site ESPECIALLY those in youth services. For example, you go to Home Depot and ask for advice regarding a project, you expect the employees will have some expertise.That expertise is gained through their personal experiences. The store won't pay for them to learn how to find a wall stud.

Several people replied with programs that they've used with staff or participated in at their libraries: 

@ReadingChick: in the interview, potential staff must agree to read outside the workplace. it's the only way to get it done. The phrase is "do you agree to read widely in a variety of genres"? (and outside the workplace)...
@nelsonlibraries: Quite a few staff here are participating in Read Watch Play. January theme is 'reread'.

@MissReneeDomain: I've done shared RA at department meetings. I bring treats--everyone shares one book they've read recently with the group.

@gcaserotti: we've done general voluntary read 100 books/yr and keep in google doc 4 all 2 see. Most branch out genres. Acknowledge winner

@SharonGrover2: We do 2-minute book reviews at all of our staff meetings. Have an easy form to fill out and file (electronically) for RA.

Based on feedback and inspiration from all these wonderful librarians on Twitter, I've developed a reading program for my staff. I'm launching it today and our first book discussion will take place in February. It's called Reading Wildly and we'll read a different genre each month. Staff members are required to read one book from the genre and fill out a basic book review form, including thinking of two (or more) readalikes. We will have a brief monthly meeting (separate from our monthly staff meeting) to booktalk our genre books to each other and discuss the genre. I've created a GoodReads group and I'm required my staff to create a GoodReads account and log their titles to this group. I'm hoping this will be useful as a reference so that staff can easily access genre reviews from their colleagues when they have readers' advisory questions, but we'll see what staff think. If it's not useful for them, I won't require this aspect of the program.

I will also be bringing in a trainer from the Indiana State Library to do a training on readers' advisory for youth. I know some of my staff have had training before, but this will get everyone on board and it will be a good refresher for those of us (ahem) who haven't had training in awhile. 

I know that some of my staff don't feel that they have time outside of work to read, but I think requiring only one book a month is very reasonable. If they finish other work and are at the desk when it's slow, I will allow them to read (only books from our Children's Room!). And I've created lists with suggested resources for finding great books and book lists of possible titles for them to get started. I've included several titles available on audio. I'm hoping that this program will inspire them to continue reading children's literature either to be better at their jobs or (hopefully) because they truly enjoy it. 

I will be participating along with my staff and I'm hoping that this program will help me fill in some gaps in my reading and keep me picking up books that might not be my favorite genres. And, of course, I'll be sure to report back about how the program goes. I plan to post with our genres every month and add a tag to my reviews of the titles I read for this program.

I'm requiring them to read books from the Children's Room (not Teen or Adult, although I know that my staff and I like books from those sections, too). This program is about getting to know our collection better so we can recommend titles to our young patrons, so we need to read books that are in our Children's Room. Books must be chapter books, graphic novels, or nonfiction. I selected genres based on popular requests from our patrons and this year's genres will be as follows:

February - Mystery
March - Science Fiction
April - Adventure
May - Funny
June - A book on the New York Times Best-Sellers List (either Middle Grade or Series)
July - Reader's Choice (everyone can select a genre or title of their choice from the Children's Room because I know summer is so tiring!)
August - School Story
September - African-American Fiction
October - Scary (or slightly scary)
November - Nonfiction
December - Award Winner

I am not the only one challenging myself to read widely this year! Check out Angela's Readers' Advisory Challenge and you might choose to read along with her. Personally, I'm planning to read along with Angela's genre program, too. (But we'll see if I can keep up two genre programs all year...)

Have you done any kind of reading program or ongoing readers' advisory training with your staff? Have you participated in any at a library you've worked at? I would love to hear details in the comments!