Multnomah County Library’s “My Librarian”

Similar to the Edmonton Public Library, Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon also has a Readers’ Advisory team! I had the opportunity to learn more about this program during their session “My Librarian: Personalization and The Future of Reader Services” at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference.Laural_2

Not suprisingly, their program is called “My Librarian” and currently consists of 13 enthusiastic library staff members who offer personalized and specific recommendations to patrons. These team members offer staff training, deliver outreach, participate in public events, contribute to social media, and respond to individual RA requests in just 4 hours a week (or roughly 10% of their time, ideally).

This program was created to “facilitate more personal connections for online readers.” Staff members conducted a focus group study, coordinated a series of conversations at ALA conferences, and collaborated with Seattle Public Library to develop the program. A grant for $190,000 helped this project get off the ground.

What staff learned from their research:

  • Libraries are often the last point in the book discovery process. People mention word-of-mouth, bookstores, & online resources before they consider libraries as places to attain reading recommendations. Libraries are competing with Scribd, Goodreads, Powell’s Daily Dose emails, National Public Radio’s Book Your Trip series, the New York Times Book Review, Nancy Pearl,  & Kindle Fire with their 10 second customer response rate to name a few.
  • People respect librarians, but don’t want to take up our time
  • People value asynchronous readers’ advisory (RA), but are hesitant to engage
  • Patrons have been very enthusiastic about the personalized librarian recommendations
  • Email is the preferred way to communicate the service

How did they recruit & train their team?

  • Staff members were encouraged to apply by showcasing their hobbies, talents, and passions
  • They solicited applications from anyone in an information services role–25 applied from over 200 staff
  • Team members were trained in RA skills, Drupal, virtual reference skills including chat and Skype, email tracking software, booktalking, and Novelist over a series of four classes
  • One training activity included visiting Powell’s to find read-alikes in the stacks and book-talk them to one another

What does the exMatthew_2_0perience look like?

  • It’s like match.com for books! Each “My Librarian” has a profile with a photograph showing their personality, a biography, monthly recommendations, blog posts, and a contact link
  • The goal is to respond to each question within 48 hours and to offer 3-5 recommended titles

How was the program marketed?

  • The program was first announced through an email to all 39,000 subscribers
  • Library Journal & The Oregonian featured the program, and it was then picked up by people on Twitter
  • They featured a tile ad on their website
  • They included it on their Google + account and in a Google ad
  • They paid $400 for an ad on Facebook, reaching approximately 30,000 people (as opposed to 560 people reached through an organic Facebook post)
  • The mobile app promoted it
  • Print ads are forthcoming

Thanks to Alison Kastner, Jeremy Graybill, Temlyn Chun, and Laurel Winter for the information.

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