Baby Steps of a Baby Librarian


Boston Library (indeed nothing like my workplace library!)

I thought you might be interested to learn a bit about my first steps at my workplace library. After a very short application process (like: do you really want to join? yes? then ok you’re in!), we are an ambitious team of… 4 volunteers, each with a particular responsibility. One for fiction in French, one for non-fiction and children’s lit, one for comics (by far the most visited bookshelves) and now yours truly for English books (fiction and non-fiction and children’s lit). The library is open twice a week between 12.30 and 2pm, and I discovered quickly that most people show up in the last 20 minutes!

The first session I learnt about the computer software and the shelving system, especially how we make a difference between new acquisitions and the rest of them, since people often come in and just want to see what’s new. I did a lot of loans and returns that day just to get my hand on the (rather slow and independent-minded) software.

The second session I got to chat with the guy in charge of the comics and forage with him in the old papers that the person previously in charge of the English shelves had left. That got me the name and address of the bookshop she used for orders and an idea about the yearly budget. Unfortunately the bookshop closed in the meantime, so I need to start afresh with a new bookshop as well! Since the previous volunteer has left the company a while back, no orders have been passed for a whole year in the English bookshelves and without new acquisitions, people’s interest has waned a bit. I hoped to be able to analyze what kind of books people borrow from “my” section, but it turns out that the software will give very little statistical information about it. So I’m left with my instincts, pretty much.

I found it surprisingly fun and difficult to give reading advice to people. I’m no sure how professional librarians do it all the time, I still wonder if I gave the right advice!

The next step is probably to order some new books, which is also very exciting. From past acquisitions I am left with the impression that people want light or middle-brow reading and bestsellers. Crime mysteries are a must too. Not that I need to buy only those titles, but at least that’s what will keep people coming… and maybe they can try something a little different afterwards.

I want to compile a list of 20-30 titles to start my negotiation with the bookshop. Any advice in the bestsellers list that I shouldn’t miss?


15 thoughts on “Baby Steps of a Baby Librarian

  1. Such a great thing to have a library at work! Recently I read a “new” Hercule Poirot written by a novelist called Sophie Hannah (with the Christie family’s permission). Maybe it’s already in your bookshelves, it’s called The monogram murders. Before starting I thought I wouldn’t like it because i’m a huge Agatha Christie’s fan, but it was a very pleasant reading after all.

  2. Even though I’m an university librarian, I still do a lot of readers’ advisory. I have some tips:

    1. Read diversely. If you have a lot of books you enjoy in a lot of different genres, you will always have some go-to recommendations. If you can’t read widely, read a lot of book reviews.

    2. Ask readers what they like specifically about books (characters, plots, style, setting) and what they don’t like. Talk books with your readers and they will give you hints as to possible recommendations.

    3. Ask what their tolerances are for sex, language, violence, topics. I’m an adventurous reader, but I know that not everyone is.

    4. Give readers a few options to decide from. The more recommend and the more they like, the more readers will come to trust you. I have a few readers now I’ve been recommending to for years that just ask me to load them up with stacks of books when they stop by.

    I hope this helps!

  3. Buying good books with someone else’s money? I would constantly have to remind myself that No, Valancy – everyone does NOT need the collected works Beatrix Potter…Even if you think they should!

    So very exciting… but how very difficult! Narrowing it down to a short list and then trying to work out what OTHER people might like to read —
    It would be interesting if there was a way of discovering borrowing trends – What’s been the most loaned out books/authors? (Which in turn, I suppose, would depend on how old-school the whole set up is…) I am nosy by nature so I love all that kind of information — but it would be helpful too, in learning about what to purchase next; what was most popular.

    My recommendations would be arbitrary, capricious and often deeply rooted in adolescent prejudices… (namely a set against heroes with moustaches) which probably wouldn’t help at all…
    But let me know — am always happy to assist! lol

  4. What fun! You have an awesome workplace that has such a resource. Have ordering books and making recommendations. Since I work in a law library I miss out on all that kind of fun.

  5. I helped a fair bit at my sons’ school library, but sadly was not allowed to go mad and order books, only sort them, help with returns, advise readers etc. I absolutely loved it!
    As for recommendations, are your readers of English language mostly French-speaking of English-speaking? Because I find that they often like different authors, especially in crime fiction. French readers tend to like darker, more socially relevant crime authors such as Ken Bruen, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, while English speakers like a variety, including cosy authors. Elizabeth George is quite popular, a mix of British nostalgia but also grittier subjects, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell are always good bets.
    What might also prove popular are books about life in France – for expats, at least. A couple I can recommend (or at least have heard very positive reports about) are Anne Korkeakivi’s ‘An Unexpected Guest’, Adria Cimino’s ‘Paris, Rue des Martyrs’ and Michelle Gable’s ‘A Paris Apartment’.

    • Dear Marina Sofia, I was thinking exactly along these lines! I want to dedicate one small section about books by French writers translated to English and books set in France for our expats. I took your recommendations and ran with it! The rest of the section is more for French readers in English and then mostly want bestsellers.

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