Patron Complaints: Firsthand Experience

So, something happened to me recently that I have heard tell in my many library school classes, but I hadn’t actually had first-hand experience with. Now that I HAVE, I feel as though I am in the position to offer advice, as (in my humble opinion), the interaction went about as ideally as it could have. I present to you:

The Patron Complaint

Yes, it’s true, I had a patron complain to me about a book I had recommended to her and her daughter. Here’s how the situation played out:

  • The patron, a mother with three young children, comes to the desk to ask for recommendations for her daughter (who is not present with her this day).  She tells me her daughter has been reading Raina Telgemeier’s books, and particularly enjoyed Drama, and is looking for a read-alike to those books.
  • I’m not told how old her daughter is, but based on that, I recommend to her three books: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, and This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.
  • Can you tell where this is going yet?
  • Three days later, the patron comes to the desk, This One Summer in hand, to tell me in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t believe I had suggested it, should it even be in the J Graphic Novels, maybe her daughter should just avoid the graphic novel collection all together.

She wasn’t mad, or at least she didn’t give the impression of anger. I think she was more taken aback and disturbed that I thought it was an appropriate recommendation (which I’ll get to in a second). She could have rolled in with righteous fury and demanded the book be taken off the shelf – she didn’t.  She could have asked to speak to my manager. She didn’t. In terms of handling a patron complaint, it was basically an ideal first experience for me, and this is how I handled it:

  • I apologized. Not for the book’s existence, but for the fact that she had had a bad experience of which I was partially responsible. I apologized that I had made an inappropriate recommendation.
  • I assured her that the book in question was on the high end of the maturity level for that section, and assured her that other recommendations could be made that would be more in line with what she considered appropriate (I didn’t say it like that. I was much less eloquent – my actual words were more like “I know we can find something else that you and your daughter will enjoy more.”)
  • I asked her not to write off the section as a whole, and recommended commonsensemedia.org if she was concerned about content in graphic novels her daughter might choose to read in the future.
  • I ran a plot synopsis of Zita past her to make sure it was more of what she actually wanted to be reading with her daughter.

Here’s the thing. Yes, I’m aware that This One Summer deals with more mature things than many of our other J graphic novels (I have a copy in the YA section, also).  But I also stand by my original assessment, that it’s an in-between book; we consider our tween audience to be ages 8-12, and our teen audience to be ages 12-19.  So you can see immediately that we have at least one year of overlap in actual numbers, and a couple of years of overlap in terms of reading level and interests.

Here’s the other thing. She told me that her daughter is seven, which falls well outside of that overlap I was talking about, and had I known the age of the reader in question I probably would not have recommended the book.  But based on the context I had (reading those Telgemeier books), I stand by recommendation.  I also never apologized for the book’s presence in the collection; I do the collection development for both graphic novel sections, and while I thought long and hard about the book’s placement after this encounter, I ultimately decided that it should stay on the shelf.

Patron complaints, especially in the graphic novel collections, have a lot of bad history.  Since I took over development I’ve been bracing myself for a concerned parent to question a book in the collection; I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence my purchasing decisions somewhat (not too much, though, I’m still a librarian).  I got lucky in that the first one I dealt with was pretty lowkey and had no lasting consequences, but it did remind me that I need to carefully consider the recommendations I make and who I make them to.  It always pays to be mindful, especially when working with parents.

GenCon 2015 and Gamification in the Library

GenCon is the biggest gaming convention in the world. I love it and I’ve been going regularly for five years now – my husband and I go for a weekend of games, whether that’s tournaments, hours of RPG sessions, playing new games late into the night or demoing stuff that’s so new it hasn’t been released yet. This year was particularly interesting for me, since I was there not only as a gamer, but as a librarian – a librarian whose library has a growing interest in games and gamification.

We started introducing gamification elements into our summer reading program this year (the badging was part of that; the kids’ program also has a badge component, and achievements to earn), and there’s a lot more we can build on for our programming both next summer and in this upcoming school year. I spent Friday attending different panel events specifically on gamification in the classroom to see what elements of that we could purloin for the library, and was not disappointed.

Jon Cassie of Game Level Learn led the two workshops I took part in: The Magic Circle of the Gamified Classroom and Using Board Games in the Gamified Classroom. My big takeaway from both of these was how to look at the mechanics of games, break them down into their component parts, and figure out how to apply those to groups of kids and specific activities. We discussed the value of competition and merit-based play, and how setting up a gamified environment encourages kids to take control over their experience.

We’ve seen this with our summer reading program as well: for the kids’ program, they have a game board with spaces to be filled in for every day that they read. In theory, a kid can only do that over the summer and still hit the prize spots and still complete the program; however, we also have spaces for badges and achievements they can earn in addition to the basic board. We have seen way more kids get excited about hanging on to their board to finish all the badges, even when they’ve finished the reading spaces and could turn it in for their last prize – the prize becomes secondary to the experience, and to the feeling of really having completed their game.

(I also learned that boardgamegeek.com lets you search for games by mechanic, which means that they have a list of fifty-one different game mechanics you can examine. Super helpful!)

The Pleasures of Ordering

One of my newer duties at the library is maintaining our folk and fairytale collection.  My first big job was to weed the section – it hadn’t been taken care of in a while, so I had a lot of work to do just clearing out the broken down and old books.  Now that I’m mostly done, I get to start on the next phase, which is making me feel a bit like a kid at Christmas – ordering new materials.

The 398’s were TREMENDOUSLY out of date.  We had maybe 8 different versions of Aesop’s Fables, but only one, lone (ugly) version of the Arabian Nights.  Twelve Mother Gooses and one Robin Hood.  Our multicultural folk tale selection was abysmal, and most of the section was a wall of old, beige, boring color.  Nothing eye catching or interesting, lots of super dated (and kind of creepy) illustrations.

But now I’m submersed in book catalogs, and the choices are endless, and beautiful, and I’m glad that my supervisor has final approval on my choices because otherwise I would be ordering ALL THE THINGS.

Being involved with making actual purchases is probably the part of my job that makes me feel the most connected to my library – decisions I’m making now will affect the materials patrons see, use and have access to for (hopefully!) long after I’m gone. That’s a powerful feeling.

Planning a Con

Last week was my official first storytime of the new session (we missed the week before because of the cold). Important things I learned:

– Putting two clapping rhymes next to each other is actually a bad idea.
– Don’t start at 5 for counting rhymes, it’s too many for babies. Start at 3.

In other library news, my library put on its Comic Con (we called it MiniCon) and, even though I didn’t work the day it was held, I stopped by to see how things were going and it sounds like it went great! I’m going to speak to my manager about being a bigger part of that next year, because I a.) am a huge nerd, b.) have experience planning conventions (it was a while ago, but I was the con chairperson for my high school science fiction & fantasy club one year), and c.) am addicted to planning things.

I’ve had a couple of ideas already, and the first thing that struck me when I saw how it was set up was that my ideas might be bigger than our library! Not that we should ever be afraid to plan big for our programs, but we ARE a smaller library, both in terms of village size and building size. It doesn’t make sense to ask a local gaming store if they want to set up free- or tournament-play for a game when we literally don’t have anywhere to put them!

On the other hand, I DO think we could put on more in the way of events – we had an author and an artist both come in, and I think we’d have the space to do some panel-adjacent activities if they’d be interested. We also had reps from comic stores, and while we don’t have the space for a lot of gaming events, we could totally do some demos or smaller organized play.

Have any of my readers hosted something like this with limited space? How did that effect your planning process, and how did you maximize what you had available?

Page to Screen Book Club

Have you voted in the Sweet Sixteen YA Book poll? It closes tomorrow so get your votes in!

One of my fellow librarians runs a Page-to-Screen book club for kids, where each month people can read a book and then come to the library for a special screening of the film adaptation of the book. In theory, the screenings include snacks, discussion, talking about the book and the movie and comparing/contrasting them. In practice, she hardly ever gets attendees to the screenings. And when she does, many of them haven’t read the book and are pretty much only there to enjoy the snacks she provides.

One of the tasks I’ve taken on at the library has been a lot of the advertising – I make flyers for all the youth services programs and make sure they get posted on the different electronic displays in the library and ensure that there are plenty for people to take on our various displays. As a result, I’ve started taking notice of what flyers attract attention, which displays show the most use, what people take notice of. So as the other librarian started setting out her film schedule for next year, we brainstormed some ways to get more people to not only come to the shows, but read the books and participate in the discussions.

Here’s what we came up with:

– First, we agreed the event would probably need to be rescheduled. Currently, it takes place on a Wednesday evening every month. This is problematic because our tween librarian has craft programs that happen every Wednesday from 3:30-4:30; there’s a lot of cross-over in the intended audiences for the two programs, so kids are either faced with leaving the craft early or coming in to the movie late. And since many of them attend the craft every week…

– Like I said, I’ve been able to see what displays get used – and the answer is, anything that’s on display has a higher chance of circulating. I’m working on a small proposal to put together a display for every month with copies of the book set aside and a copy of the advertising flyer out in the center of everything, so it’s easily accessible and very visible.

– The big change she’s making is rotating the target age group. Currently, it’s sort of fluid what age group the books are for, and there are tons of great picture books that have been adapted to films that would make good family events. So starting in January, she’s going to be rotating a picture book, grade school level book, and middle school level book, so the audience for every month is more defined (which is not to say that tweens couldn’t come to Meet the Robinsons! But having a target audience makes things easier to advertise).

Have you guys had a regular program that needed an attendance boost? How did you go about attracting more attendees?

Reading: Divergent by Veronica Roth. The first time I tried to read this book I put it down about fifty pages in – as a tattooed and pierced lady, I was a little impatient with the characterization of body mod as shorthand for “dangerous and edgy.” I picked it back up for two reasons: I want to have read it before the movie comes out, and I had the end of the trilogy completely spoiled for me, which actually made me MORE interested to see how Roth gets to that ending.

Watching: Can I tell you how much I loved Frozen? Because I really loved Frozen, you guys. My full review is up now, go check it out. I also saw Desolation of Smaug, which was MUCH better than An Unexpected Journey. I haven’t reviewed it yet because I saw a very late show and I’d like to see it again, so I know I was conscious for the whole thing.

Reference Books – Old Fashioned?

There’s a thread currently going around on the ALSC listserv I subscribe to regarding ready reference collections and how necessary it is to maintain one – the original poster asked two questions: what methods are librarians using to track reference usage (since they are non-circulating and thus have no check-out statistics), and if people are continuing to keep a reference section at all. Here’s my take:

At my library, we keep a very, very limited reference collection. We have the current World Book Encyclopedia, a science encyclopedia, an African-American cultural encyclopedia (three books), an Atlas and a handful of textbooks. I wasn’t working here when (and if) the library decided to downsize its reference collection, but that’s the impression I get – what we have may have been moved to the circulating collection, or just weeded for disuse.

The most practical reasons for downsizing reference collections are space and money. We live in an age where subscribing to the electronic versions of encyclopedias is cheaper and easier; they get updated automatically, they don’t take up precious shelf space, and they’re easier to navigate. When I was a student, and I had to write research papers, we had strict regulations on how many electronic versus paper resources we could use – a practice which is outdated and, I think, probably contributes pretty directly to the declining use of ready reference.

The other thing to consider, related to the time and money factor, is that by far the most popular service my library offers (at least to teens and young people) is the ready availability of computers, laptops, and wi-fi. I absolutely do not believe that libraries are in danger because “everything is online” – all you have to do is stick your head in our youth area after school to see the number of kids who rely on us to provide the electronic tools they need for academics and other purposes. Libraries and books aren’t going anywhere, but the internet (and the access we provide) has taken the place of many hard copy reference materials – which are at least a month to a year behind the information you can find on the internet.

This is not to say that ALL materials traditionally catalogued as reference have no use, but I do think it’s why most of those get rotated into the circulating collection. It’s no longer vitally important that they stay in the library for everyone to use; they are an option now, not the only source of information.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a media breakdown!

Watching: Sleepy Hollow, Dracula, Grey’s Anatomy. I REALLY wish Grey’s would stop doing legal storylines – now I know how people in the medical/CSI fields must feel about all of those horribly inaccurate procedural shows. One of the most recent episodes of Grey’s features a medical malpractice case that makes zero sense if you have any sort of legal background (two of the three attorneys I work part-time for are med mal lawyers, so…yeah). But Sleepy Hollow continues to be bananas in the most enjoyable way.

Reading: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black. I love that Holly Black isn’t afraid to go there when she writes; I am pretty much constantly surprised by how visceral and brutal Coldtown is. Which is good, because it’s a vampire book, and this is a book that never forgets that vampires are monsters.

Playing: Still Pokémon. I had to return a borrowed copy of Skyrim, which I hope to get for Christmas so that I can continue my journey of exploration and becoming the baddest ass character in all the land. Seriously, don’t mess with my wood elf, she will cut you.