The landscape of reading is always shifting, and libraries and bookstores are sharing practices each once thought unique. Not long ago, bookstores had customers, and libraries had patrons. Bookstores were there to sell; libraries were there to inform. But readers are readers—and while booksellers hand-sell titles, librarians practice readers’ advisory, and these approaches are not all that different.
Bookstores: Turnover and Connections
Due to space issues and the focus on inventory turnover, bookstores are skewed toward front-list titles, the fresh releases from publishers. Bookstores have beautiful displays highlighting current events, trends, and blockbuster authors. Dedicated booksellers know how to tie these together seamlessly and are adept at hand-selling the virtues of seemingly disparate titles and authors. They can jump from provocative nonfiction to graphic novels to the latest hot genre title with the nimbleness of mountain goats while filling your basket.
A true bookseller’s breadth of knowledge is astounding—and their business depends on it. They develop meaningful dialogues with their customers. They hear their customers’ wishes and stock titles and authors that reflect their customers’ needs. There is an ongoing conversation between customers, booksellers, and publishers’ reps. Booksellers inform customers about new titles and offer feedback to publishers about what’s exciting readers. It’s a Mobius strip of book buzz, with surprise sleepers and reading trends often discovered through a bookseller’s network.
Libraries: Depth and Breadth
Because library collections of front-list blockbusters are often filled with long hold queues, we can make the discovery of other authors available by offering deeper catalogs of established writers. Due to space limitations, most bookstores may not be able to offer Trollope’s complete Barchester Chronicles, but libraries are likely to have access to them. Librarians can provide reader’s-advisory connections from Trollope to Dickens to Angela Thirkell (who sometimes refers back to characters and events in Trollope’s Barsetshire novels). It’s that depth of titles that can be enriching while providing opportunities of learning for both patrons and librarians as they discuss reading preferences.
Shaping Readers’ Advisory
What libraries can learn from bookstores are the dynamics of prominent front-list displays. These can be conversation starters that lead into readers’ discoveries of read-alike authors. Another important tool of booksellers that libraries could make better use of would be regional bookseller’s trade shows. These trade shows are small enough to allow for meaningful conversations between librarians and publishers concerning regionally important publishing developments and provide context to local reading trends.
Booksellers can take cues from librarians by realizing the potential of connecting to an author’s complete catalog. By stocking and filling out an author’s catalog, more connections can be made. Libraries also do a great job of providing “passive” readers’ advisory by using bookmarks and read-alike lists.
As long as the reader is served, both retail and library approaches work in connecting with readers, either through the dynamics of front-list buzz or through a reader’s connection to the deeper depths of an author’s catalog. When a reader’s needs are met through thoughtful dialogue, then we’ve accomplished our goal of putting the right book into the right person’s hands.
John Schoppert is an Adult Services Librarian at Centralia Timberland Library, WA (and former bookstore owner).