Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interesting, very interesting

I did my secret shopper assignment last night and was both pleased and disappointed. I approached the information desk with the story that I had read all of Suzanne Collins' novels and was particularly fond of her Hunger Games series. Since the next book in that series isn't coming out until August, I asked the librarian if she could recommend anything to tide me over until the book was available. I figured it was a bit of a softball request because I gave her a specific author and a specific type of book that I was looking for. What happened next shocked me.

The first thing the librarian said to me was: "I'm not familiar with Suzanne Collins' novels. I haven't read The Hunger Games." At first, I thought that this was a dismissal and was about to be really upset, but I think she was telling me that by way of an apology (albeit prematurely) if she couldn't find the type of book that I needed because she immediately started searching for some read-alikes for me. Her computer screen was tilted to her left so she and I could both see what she was doing (points for that) and what tools she was using. I watched her type into Google (yes, Google) the phrase: "If you like Suzanne Collins." Of course, all she got were results about Suzanne Collins, not read-alikes. She then went to Amazon and typed in The Hunger Games, but only got recommendations for Collins' other books. I confessed that I had read all of her other books including her children's series. I guess I must have seemed embarrassed by that because she reassured me that there was nothing wrong with that and that she, too, loves many children's books. Again, points for her for reassuring me that there is nothing wrong with my reading habits. Not that I needed it, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

After clicking on a few titles, she turned to another librarian and asked her for her advice on what I should read since she was apparently more familiar with the YA fantasy genre. Since the other librarian was more than happy to help me, I switched to her while the first librarian helped other patrons. The second librarian asked me if I had read The Uglies series of novels (without even looking anything up online or using a printed RA tool) and I told her that I had. Still not looking anything up, she sat there thinking for a minute and then got up and walked over to the Teen section. I followed her and she pulled a book off the shelf that belonged in the fantasy genre, but that was really all that it had in common with The Hunger Games. I could tell that she was just going to suggest any YA fantasy novel if I didn't give her more information, so I told her that was really interested me were novels about futuristic, dystopian societies. She thought for another moment and then spent quite a bit of time trying to remember the name of a novel that she thought I might be interested in. After thinking for a bit, she came up with the title The Diary of Pelly D. She described the plot and it definitely sounded like something I would enjoy.
We went back to her computer and discovered that the library's copy had been checked out so she put it on hold for me.

I walked away feeling satisfied that they had found a book I might enjoy and I appreciated the fact that they never once made me feel uncomfortable for asking for recommendations. I also liked how they seemed like they did not want me to walk away without at least one book of interest. However, I was really disappointed with how little use they made of the RA tools available to them. It was all I could do not to say to both of them: "Your library subscribes to Novelist!! Use if for goodness' sake!" If the first librarian had used that instead of Google and Amazon, I think she would have been able to help me out even though she wasn't familiar with the author or the genre. I performed my own RA on Novelist and found that if either of them had used that, they would have seen the key word "dystopias" and I wouldn't have even had to tell them that that was what interested me. Also, on the flip side, if either of them had asked me what I liked about The Hunger Games, then they would have also found out that I was interested in dystopias without my having to offer that information. Granted, Novelist isn't perfect as some of the books recommended were definitely not ones that I would be interested in, but I was given more titles than just the one the librarian recommended to me.

In conclusion, I have to say that I did like the fact that they wanted to help me. I was immediately acknowledged with a smile when I approached the desk. I definitely appreciated that the computers were at an angle so I could see what they were doing. If I didn't know about all of the RA tools available and many of the proper questions to ask, I would have probably felt very satisfied that they were able to find something for me. However, I do know about these things and I really wish one of them would have used at least one tool instead of relying on Google or their own knowledge. While it might seem impressive that one of the librarians could recall the titles that she did to me, I kept thinking about what she would do if someone came to her with a genre she was not familiar with. What then? Again, they need to use the RA tools. However, at least I wasn't just given a list of the top selling fantasy novels and told to go on my merry way.


  1. That does seem like a mixed bag. I decided to use Novelist and look up my favorite authors and books to see what they suggest just for my own pleasure, providing I make time to read for pleasure in the future. I looked up Margaret Atwood first because I really liked her last two books and want more like it. Just seeing at least ten books to try made my entire week! Now I just have to find them, get them, and then get the time to read them. :)

  2. Seems like you had a good experience overall. I have a feeling that a lot of our secret shopper assignments are going to be sad. Not that librarians don't know how to advise, but that they are so busy and don't really want to take time to advise? Great secret shopping!

  3. I am, of course, not at all happy. And you know how the saying goes, if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

    Many many things wrong here. Librarians are knowledge workers not folks who know how to share a computer screen, use Google and share their opinions.

    I'm tough - I know it but somebody's got to be. :)