ALA Conference – Books to Go with Rachel Van Riel 6/23/12


How to increase circulation and patron satisfaction

Open the Book is a UK based firm.  was created in partnership with UK Libraries.  Her talk today is based on data gathered from UK libraries only, but she’d love it if librarians started gathering their own data in this country.
Libraries today under pressure financially, politically( prove worth) culturally (to justify our role.)
Reader- centered approach is best way to help.
Assumptions we make as librarians
  • Patrons will ask if they can’t find something
  • People know what that are looking for
  • Customers have plenty of time to spend at the library
Patron Reality
  • Most people are browsing
  • Few people ask staff for anything, especially with self serve and self checkout. You have more conversations if you are roaming, especially if you are carrying books. “Please ask me a question, I hate shelving” was a catchy badge used in one place.
  • Average visit to a public library is between five and ten minutes, including Internet users and those studying, so lots are less than 5 minutes.
  • 3 out of 4 shoppers in the States buy on impulse. 50% of decisions to buy are made after the customer enters the store.  We need to apply these statistics to our library patrons.
The Art of Choosing – more choice does not increase satisfaction.
Opening the Book research conducted in  UK libraries
How did you choose the book you got today – overwhelmingly, response was from displays.
200 user observations gathered.  Of those who stayed the least time – under 5 minutes – 43% checked something out. What were the others doing in under five minutes – probably came for a quick look and saw nothing tempting, so they left.
Books to go – small selection of books close to the door to tempt people. Display might be called Books to Go or “Quick choice”.  Don’t use  bestsellers  there since we know those will go out.  Instead, put up a great variety of books that patrons may have not discovered.
In many libraries, the first thing you see is huge circulation desk.  This is a barrier to interaction and browsing.  This harks back to the old days when lots of clerks were needed to check out books for patrons.  This is now outdated!
One example Ms Van Riel used was a display called Page One.  850 paperbacks put in that area account for  30% of fiction checkouts and 20% of total circulation.
Put book pods next to self checkout, put tabletops pods under windows and on the tops of tables.
How libraries present their books is a problem.
  • We have too many books to show well, so how do you make things choosable. We cram things!
  • Plan an area near the front of the library. Make a few hot spots. Usage of any unit falls off steeply when less than 70% full. Have top notch books.
  • Reader centered approach
Promotion is about motivation!
Sell the sizzle, not the sausages.
  • What the book can do for you, not what it is
  • More exciting and more engaging
  • Can mix different kinds of books to open up reading choices
  • More flexible units can top up with many different books… it is never empty.
Open up reading choices
  • Appeal beyond standard genres
  • Mix fiction and nonfiction
  • Bring books together from different parts of the library together
  • Create customer interest through humor, discovery and shared reading experience.
The new library is
  • Dynamic, not static
  • Tempting sight lines
  • Books keep changing
  • Staff out in the space and not behind the desk
  • Treat stock as dynamic, not static
  • Experiment with merchandising and promotions
  • Prioritize the 75% of impulse choosers.
This was an entertaining, informative and thought-provoking session that will challenge many traditional ideas about how libraries do things.  Although the speaker was sponsored by a vendor, she didn’t try to only sell us their products, but also give us some food for thought.  If nothing else, she has convinced me to get out of my chair at the reference desk and go out to the stacks and engage patrons more actively.

June 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm 2 comments

A.L.A. Conference, Opening Day

I’ve been a librarian for twenty-eight years, but this is the first time I’ve attended the annual ALA Conference.  By far, it’s the largest and most diverse gathering of librarians I’ve ever seen.  National conferences like Internet Librarian and Computers in Libraries are dwarfed by this one!  I must admit, I was a bit intimidated when I saw the lines and lines of librarians waiting at the registration desk, but we got through in just a few minutes.  After getting my badge and bag, I was ready for the Opening Session with our keynote program.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed!

Our featured speaker was Rebecca McKinnon, author of  Consent of the Networked.  She started by talking about the Arab Spring 2011 as an example of how social media can work to get news out to the world, but also how some really troubling revelations came to light as a result of regime change. Egypt was cited as an example of one of the dark sides of the Spring – activists stormed state security offices and found an astounding amount of surveillance data on individuals that had been transmitted to the government. It has become a common thing for foreign governments to be customers of US firms who provide this kind of technology. Ms. MacKinnon used Hewlett Packard as an example of just one company selling surveillance technology to China.

She then posed some interesting questions to our audience.  Can technology really be a-political? Do those who produce technology have any moral responsibility to be neutral? She contends tt is the responsibility of government and companies to make sure this happens. Unfortunately, acts like SOPA threatened some of these rights. Intermediary liability was going to force sites like Wikipedia to potentially censor.

Some companies are actually trying for more transparency, including Google. How do we ensure our private information isn’t being abused by Government agencies. All telecommunications companies should have some sort of transparency policy. Only five companies have joined global network initiatives so far.

If we want the Internet to remain compatible with democracy, then we have to work for it. We need a movement in scope and depth of the environmental movement. We need to be stewards of cyberspace.

Certainly her talk provided all of us with lots of food for thought.  It was a great way to kick off this conference!

June 23, 2012 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

OverDrive’s Lastest Venture

Last week I read OverDrive’s blog entry about their new browser-based eBook reader OverDrive Read that is due out later this year.  At first glance, it looks like it is designed to solve a variety of the problems we’ve had with DRM and awkward downloading.  According to their blurb, this new product “enables readers using standard web browsers to enjoy eBooks online and offline without first installing any software or activating their device.”  What could be negative about this?

The more I thought about it, the more questions it raised in my mind.  Sure, it will be great for Kindle Fires and Nook Tablets, but what about the lowly but extremely popular Nook Simple Touch and the new Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight.  Neither of these have web browsers that would support this technology.  The same would hold true for the older Kindles.  Thus, we’d have one group of patrons who could take advantage of  OverDrive Read and another group who would be left behind.  This immediately brought up the issue of staff and patron training – and how to reach those patrons affected.

Another part of OverDrive’s blog mentioned that OverDrive Read “will enable publishers, authors and retailers to benefit from more direct engagement with readers and to gather data about how users are discovering, browsing and selecting eBooks…”  Hmmmm…. that gathering data bit struck me as a bit strange.  Will retailers be able to track our library patrons’ reading tastes?  Granted, Amazon does that for their Kindle users, but as a library, I don’t want to be a party to this.  I need to find out just exactly how this tracking is done and what will be done to protect our user’s privacy.

In two weeks I’ll be heading off to ALA and will certainly take time to talk with our OverDrive representatives and get additional details about this new product.  In the meantime, forgive me if I sound just a bit skeptical.  To read the complete blog entry, go to:

June 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

The State of Digital Media

Tomorrow morning I will be speaking at a state-wide conference on “The State of Digital Media – a Practical Look.”  When I think about my own view of digital media right now, I want to laugh and simply point out that it’s in a state of confusion.  However, my presentation must – and will – focus on the positive advances made over the past years in the variety of digital formats available to our users and the improvements made in mobile devices used to read and play the digital files.  If pressed, however, I’m likely to give a few, candid comments about increasing prices, decreasing availability of titles, confusing paths needed to successfully download files, and a variety of other grievances we suffer as users today.  Am I just getting older, or less patient with always being on the bleeding edge of new technology? 

I remember back twenty or so years ago when I used to work on computers using a command line and DOS.  Trying to find information on the Internet meant using GOPHER and very structured queries.  I was so thrilled just to be part of the new age of technology that jumping through hoops to make a very slow computer respond to me was only mildly frustrating.  When Windows 3.0 was released, I thought I had died and gone to Microsoft heaven.  Why is this new digital media driving me to distraction then?  I’ve been adapting so well for so long!

I don’t blame the technology itself.  Being able to download digital files to read as e-books or listen to as e-audiobooks is a beautiful thing.  Having a variety of slick devices to use with the media is also exciting.  It’s the constant changing of policies, ways of downloading, publisher rules and restrictions that make this process unlike others I’ve encountered.  I’m not totally blaming the publishing companies.  I think OverDrive and have made some questionable decisions that resulted in some of the publishers “punishing” the libraries, who have had no voice in what has happened.   

So tomorrow, I’ll be positive and honest in my assessment of the “state” of digital media and hope that commercial interests will get together with libraries and find a solution to many of our problems.  Until then, I’m afraid it will continue to be a state of confusion.


May 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm 1 comment

My “Fifty Shades of Grey” Rant

I knew there would come a time when I’d face a real purchasing dilemma regarding Random House e-book pricing, but it has come sooner than I anticipated.  Who could have imagined the day when a paperback book that normally sells for $9.98 in print would be priced at $47.85 in e-book format for libraries!  (I should note that individual readers can purchase  it from Amazon in Kindle format for $9.99 and from Barnes and Noble in Nook format for that same low price.)  The fact that the paperback in question is Fifty Shades of Grey, the wildly popular erotic tale by E.L. James shouldn’t enter into my purchasing decision, but I’m afraid it does.  This isn’t a question of censoring content, but rather the fact that it hasn’t gotten good literary reviews.  I don’t hesitate for a moment in buying “bodice rippers” for my e-book readers since they are normally under $10.00 per book.  These are popular and I don’t care if they are quality prose or just casual reading.  But when I have to fork over almost $50.00 of library funds  for a paperback in e-book format  that has little chance of being a literary classic, I have to think twice.  I’ve already purchased two licenses for this e-book, but now I’ve got 25 local holds and need to purchase several more.  Our OverDrive consortium has 550 holds for 25 member libraries, so I know our patrons will have a very long wait if I don’t beef up our local numbers.  The kicker is that this is the first book in a trilogy.  Guess what will happen after everyone reads book #1 – yep, I’ll have a mountain of holds on the next two in the series.  They also cost $47.85 per license!  I can see my e-book budget taking a huge hit over the next few months.

In the end, I suspect that I will give in and pay what I consider an outrageous amount for two more licenses on the first book and then multiple copies for the next ones, but forgive me if I just have to give voice to my inner fury at the helplessness of libraries to get a decent pricing model from our publishers.

May 7, 2012 at 11:30 am 1 comment

Has Our Local E-Book Craze Ended?

During January and February of this year, I visited our statistical reports at OverDrive at least once an hour to see how many new users we had added, the number of digital items downloaded, and the size of our current wait list.  There were days that I was sure it would exceed 1,000 items on hold by our local patrons, but it never made it above 975.  While these figures were a bit scary, I was thrilled that our digital collection was so popular.  In posting my statistics for March, I was startled to find that our total number of items downloaded had decreased slightly from February, but our holds list was still holding in the 800’s.  This month, our holds are down in the low 600’s, but the average waiting period is the same as it was back in February.  This makes me question whether our local e-book “craze” has started to decline or if factors in the publishing world have caused this decrease.

Starting in February, we lost access to some of the most popular authors when Penguin stopped the licensing of any  titles to OverDrive libraries.  For Kindle readers who wanted to read older titles by Penguin authors, they had to jump through a number of hoops just to download them to their devices.  Another huge blow came when Random House raised their prices at the beginning of March.  While our consortium may have felt comfortable buying an additional license for a popular e-book when it cost $30 or $35, it will hold off now that it is over $75.  We no longer have an automatic purchase trigger when the holds list exceeds a target number.  Each title is decided on an individual basis.

In preparing for a presentation at our local library association recently, I checked the number of titles available for us to “purchase” from OverDrive compared to those on the NY Times Bestseller List and the USA Today List.  In both cases, only four out of the top 13 were even offered for our consideration.  Patrons just don’t understand how limited our options are in getting licenses for popular books!

Given the fact that three of the major publishing houses settled with the Dept. of Justice over the current price-fixing lawsuit involving Apple, I now envision Amazon dropping the prices on their bestsellers in Kindle format to new, low rates.  When this happens, our patrons won’t want to be on long hold lists, especially when they can purchase titles we can’t provide for immediate downloading.  This will put libraries at an even greater disadvantage!

So getting back to my original question – is our e-book craze just naturally leveling out now that we’re four months out of the holiday season, or have factors beyond our control hastened this decrease.  Have our avid readers simply run out of books on our site that they want to read or are they tired of waiting on hold lists that are longer due to fewer numbers of copies?  It will take a while for me to figure this one out.  I’m hoping that circulation will increase again when summer vacation season rolls around.  But if we can’t supply the popular titles that are featured on best seller lists, or purchase enough licenses of expensive Random House offerings, then we may have a real problem on our hands.  I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

April 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm 1 comment

The Demise of Encyclopædia Britannica

I’ve been caught up in e-books for so long that I failed to mark the exact date when the announcement came out about the end of the print version of Encyclopædia Britannica.  This was a truly sad moment for me, not because I read the current edition that sits in our reference area in the library, but because of the literary history of those who contributed to this product in the past.  If it were not for Britannica, I would not be the librarian I am today!  Let me explain….  I started back to school in 1983, after the birth of my third son.  I already had one master’s degree in colonial American history and couldn’t find a job.  I was working as a library aide at the time, so I figured that I’d give Library Science a try and see if I wanted to invest my precious time and money into getting yet another graduate degree.  The first class I took was General Reference, and the very first assignment was on comparing various encyclopedias.  My professor must have seen something in me, because he looked me in the eye and asked if I was up for a challenge.  I replied that I was, thinking I might have to compare a specialized set of books rather than the standard World Book and Grolier’s like the other students were doing.  Dr. K. asked me to compare the current edition of  Britannica to the 9th Edition as well as the 11th Edition.  I had no idea which edition was current, but I agreed to give it a try. 

It turned out that the most recent was the 15th editon, which I could find at any local library.  The 9th and 11th, however, were a different story.  I finally located them in the stacks of the graduate library where I was taking my classes.  It was love at first sight!  The 9th Edition, published in 1889 was known as the Scholar’s Edition for good reason.  The articles were authored by men I had studied in my undergrad classes in literature, philosophy and history.  They were beautifully written and caught the spirit and voice of Victorian England.  The 11th Edition was similiar, but with shorter and easier to understand entries.  This was the last edition written prior to The Great War, the edition I personally call the last one from the Age of Innocence.  My assignment was supposed to be several pages long, but mine turned into ten.  I was totally caught up in the topic and knew that I was destined to be a research librarian.  I was hooked, to put it mildly – and my professor knew it.  I “aced” the class and signed up for every class he taught, hoping I’d have other assignments like that one.  By the time I completed my degree, I had been assigned a number of interesting projects, but none ever lived up to that first encounter with Britannica.

Thus, when I read about the end of this venerable tradition of putting information into print at Britannica, I was sad for myself as well as those who will never be able to enjoy the challenge and joy of discovering the heritage of these volumes.  While it will continue online, I suspect it will never be the same and will be poorly used in comparison to Wikipedia.

  By the way, Wikipedia has just about the only history of Britannica I could find – and I thought it to be accurate and very complete.  What irony !!

March 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

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