Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Ways Libraries Can Be Like Nordstrom

I'd just been hired into my current position as teen services librarian and was learning the ropes at the reference desk when my supervisor explained our library's strong commitment to customer service.

"We want to be the Nordstrom of libraries," she said.

And suddenly, just like that, my whole philosophy about customer service was summed up into a succinct phrase. The Nordstrom of libraries!

Photo by flickr user ttarasiuk

I am a lifelong Nordstrom shopper. When I step into that store, life just feels a little nicer. I could do my shopping anywhere... but for me, Nordstrom isn't just a place to buy something, it's a treat. It's an escape from the everyday.

So what does it mean to be the Nordstrom of libraries? How can libraries learn from Nordstrom?

1. Perform small gestures that mean a lot
I love when the Nordstrom sales associate walks around the counter to thank me and hand my purchase to me, rather than shoving it at me distractedly and moving on to the next customer. It's a small detail that's exemplary of their customer service ethic as a whole. They go the extra mile to make the customer feel valued.

We can do that at the library. We do it every day. Little things like:
  • Greeting the patron before they initiate contact, or saying "Welcome!" if it's their first time there.
  • Walking the patron to the stacks to find a book instead of pointing. 
  • Remembering to end every reference interview with, "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
These small gestures add up to make the patron feel valued, and they'll walk away with a positive feeling about the library.

2. Let people know that cardholders receive special advantages
Nordstrom cardholders have access to privileges like complimentary alterations and early access to sales, and they earn "Nordstrom Notes," (e.g. cash back on their purchases that can be used at the store). Nice, right? A library card offers a lot, too-- and librarians should be vocal in promoting everything we provide for our patrons.

As all librarians know, with the advent of electronic resources, a library card entitles its bearer to so much more than it did in the past. Not only does it grant the library patron access to an amazing collection of books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, and DVDs, but library cardholders can also take advantage of subscription-only article databases, business resources, Web-based language learning programs, and downloadable ebooks and eaudiobooks. All that, for free!

3. Be consistent
Any dedicated Nordstrom shopper will tell you a few things they've come to expect from their favorite store, like an easy returns policy and special sales that arrive on the calendar like clockwork.

The library version?
  • If we have reasonable policies and ensure that all employees enforce them consistently and fairly, patrons know what to expect. 
  • If we host a successful event that patrons enjoy, like summer reading program or a used book sale, continue to offer it at the same time every year.
4. Create a calming environment
When I think about Nordstrom's elegant atmosphere, I think of their pianists. I also think of they way they thoughtfully display items for sale, never crowding their clothing racks. How does this translate to the library experience?

Okay, so we can't have a live pianist at the library. But there are certain things we can do.
  • Create an aesthetically pleasing space by minimizing unnecessary and unprofessional signage (in other words: back away from the Comic Sans and Microsoft Publisher, folks!). 
  • Strive for a calm atmosphere by designating "quiet zones" as well as "okay for chatter" spaces within the building, if space allows. (Hint: put the quiet zone far away from the children's department.)
5. Offer personal shoppers
Personal shoppers are specialists who set aside time just to help you, and their expertise is free to the public. Sound familiar? That describes librarians, too!

Many libraries offer patrons the opportunity to schedule individualized research appointments-- and research isn't the only thing patrons need customized assistance with. So many people have shiny new ereaders, and are eager to download library books, but don't know how to get started. Libraries can fulfill that need by providing individual ereader tutorial sessions. The possibilities for personalized help are endless, depending on your library's specialties: genealogy, local history, business information...

For more insight on how to provide an excellent library experience for your patrons, check out the following:

Top Ten Customer Service Skills for Library Staff from ALA Learning (My favorite: "Provide alternatives to No.")
Library Trigger Points from Designing Better Libraries (" thing, or maybe two things, that really makes the difference for potential library users...")
Extreme Customer Service at Darien Library from David Lee King (Including mini laptops used for roaming reference-- that patrons are allowed to use, too.)
The Customer-Centric Library from Marianne Lenox (Simple yet very useful tips like: "Use your enthusiasm to exceed customer expectations.")

(Disclaimer: I should mention that Nordstrom did not compensate me in any way for this post. I just happen to be a big fan of the store and how they operate.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: Sisters of Glass, by Stephanie Hemphill

Hemphill, Stephanie. Sisters of Glass. 272 p. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780375861093. 

The latest book from Printz Honor winning author, Stephanie Hemphill, provides a lovely look at 15th century Venice and centers around a fascinating topic I knew very little about before reading: glassblowing.  

Sisters of Glass, a novel in verse, tells the story of Maria, the second daughter of the Barovier family, famed for their glassmaking. Her late father proclaimed that she should marry a nobleman, and thus it must be so-- even though that role would traditionally go to the elder sister, Giovanna. The sisters clash as the family attempts to make a suitable match for Maria. Meanwhile, they've hired a handsome artisan to help maintain the family business, and Maria can't help but take notice of him, although he's far from being part of the nobility.

The setting of the Venetian island of Murano during the 15th century is vibrant, and the characters are believable. The swoon-worthy forbidden romance brings an alluring element to the plot, and many readers will relate to the turbulent yet strongly affectionate relationship between the two sisters.

I included this book in my list of Downton Abbey readalikes because the plot has a lot to do with the social customs of its era, particularly pertaining to the roles of women. It's curious how much responsibility rests on the weight of a young woman's shoulders- save the family's fortune by making a good marriage!- but they have so little agency. Readers will root for Maria and Giovanna-- they are definitely girls with goals.

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of this book was the chance to learn about the art and history of glassblowing on the island of Murano. (My BA is in Art History! I love this stuff!) The Barovier family of this book is a real part of Murano history-- the oldest glassmaking family in the world, with a tradition of glass production that can be traced back to the 13th century, according to

Coupe de Angelo Barovier, Museo del vetro, Murano.

Murano glass is still a sought-after art form today. Hemphill's descriptions of the island and its famous glass made me eager to visit Murano someday. I love that this rich tradition is still alive after so many centuries.

Photo of Murano by flickr user Harsh Light

I only wish this book had been longer. I could have happily read more! And the ending is perhaps a bit too convenient. But it will please those who just love a happy ending-- as well as students who are required to read a certain number of pages for a historical fiction assignment, as the verse format manages to provide a decent page count while the amount of text is light and very readable.

Sisters of Glass is a quick, engaging read, and a good introduction to the verse novel format. Look for it in bookstores everywhere on March 27. ARC for review provided by Random House Children's Books via NetGalley.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get Bella's Wedding Linens from Breaking Dawn

I swear I'm a YA literature magnet even when I'm away from the library.

While wandering around a shopping center with my family on my day off, I happened to peek into a lovely special-occasion linen store, just for fun. I didn't take much notice of the Breaking Dawn decal on the shop's window... until I found out that this company, Wildflower Linen, provided the linens for Bella and Edward's opulent forest-themed wedding in The Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn, Part 1.

Because of course the YA librarian stumbles upon something YA lit related in a linen store, of all places! I mean, really and truly. I don't go looking for it. This is my life. 

But anyway-- what a great gig for a linen company, right? And their work is jaw-droppingly magnificent.

Naturally, the truly dedicated Twihard bride needn't stand back and merely admire these swoon-worthy linens. With Wildflower Linen's help, you can recreate Bella's wedding for your big day. You can rent or purchase chair covers, tablecloths, napkins, and tabletop accessories as seen in the Twilight Saga wedding. All you need is the sparkly groom.

Honestly, even if you're not a Twilight fan, you have to admit the wedding in Breaking Dawn was gorgeous. The lily pad tablecloth is nothing short of amazing.

And the Twilight inspiration doesn't have to end with the honeymoon-- Wildflower Linen will be releasing an exclusive line of Twilight-inspired bedding and home decor for your happily-ever-after.

From the Wildflower Linen blog, here's a preview of the collection:

Keep checking the Wildflower Linen website or email for details.

It's a shame I didn't know about Wildflower Linen when I was planning my wedding ten years ago-- their products would have skyrocketed to the top of my bridezilla must-have list. But I was told there's no minimum order for linen rentals, so even if I'm not planning an event, I could potentially rent the most fabulous tablecloth ever and plan a romantic dinner for two at home on a special occasion.

Maybe I'll dust my husband with glitter and rent the lily pad tablecloth for our anniversary!

Just kidding.

But I am pretty much head-over-heels for these linens.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eye-catching Covers

They say "don't judge a book by its cover," but we all do. In a sea of pretty girls’ faces, sumptuous dress, stylized angel wings, and shiny, futuristic symbols, what stands out on the YA shelves these days?

As I was looking through some new and upcoming releases, I noticed three particularly unique and eye-catching covers. They don't seem to fit into any current trend, but still manage to look contemporary and appealing for today's readers.

Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne
True, this cover features a pretty girl. And okay, she’s wearing what appears to be a fancy dress. But the dress isn’t the centerpiece of the image. Rather, this cover is composed of some truly curious elements-- the blindfold, the moon, the intricate border... is it a reference to a Tarot card? The design is a bold an intriguing choice that makes me want to pick up the book and see what it's all about. (In fact, I just started reading this one and it's captivating so far!)

The Diviners, by Libba Bray
Frankly, it’s a weird cover, and to be honest, I’m not actually sure I like it (even though I'm sure I'm going to like the book itself-- I heart Libba Bray!). Regardless, this cover is like nothing else I’m seeing on the shelves these days. That eye staring out! It's so strange! The subdued colors and the fact that it's not a photographic image makes me wonder if it's meant to hold crossover appeal for an adult audience. It's not a very "teen" cover... which is what will make it stand out on the YA shelves.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
This cover is SO different from every other book on the teen shelf! It almost looks like a children's book, except that children's books probably wouldn't have "dying girl" in the title. The design has a fascinating use of bold color, linear composition, and creative papercuts. I just want to keep staring at it. I haven't read the book, but I understand it's quirky and holds appeal for both male and female audiences-- qualities the cover reflects quite well.

As much as I actually do like certain YA book cover trends (I'm still a sucker for the gorgeous dresses, I admit it!) it's refreshing to see some book covers that break away from the pack. What other books with unusual covers can I expect to see on the shelves soon? Has anything caught your eye lately?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This Looks Familiar: Wentworth Hall

I just stumbled across this upcoming YA historical fiction title and it caught my attention-- Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame, coming from Simon & Schuster on May 1.

Excerpt from the publisher's summary:
It’s 1912, and the Darlingtons of Wentworth Hall have more than just the extensive grounds to maintain. As one of Britain’s most elite families, they need to keep up appearances that things are as they have always been…even as their carefully constructed facade rapidly comes undone.

Maggie has a secret. And she’s not the only one…the handsome groom Michael, the beautiful new French nanny Therese, the Darlingtons’ teenage houseguests Teddy and Jessica, and even Maggie’s younger sister Lila are all hiding something. Passion, betrayal, heartache, and whispered declarations of love take place under the Darlingtons’ massive roof. And one of these secrets has the power to ruin the Darlingtons forever.

So, basically, this book sounds like it's trying REALLY hard to be Downton Abbey for teens. I'm raising an eyebrow, but you know... I just might fall for it! At the very least, I'll order it for my library and flip through a few pages to see if the writing style appeals to me. Who knows? Maybe I'll want to add it to my list of Downton Abbey readalikes.

I'm really curious, though: did the manuscript get picked up by the publisher because it happens to fit into the current Downton Abbey craze? Was the author specifically asked to write something that would appeal to Downton Abbey fans? Or maybe it's a complete coincidence.

What do you think? The publishing industry fascinates me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Classic Kidlit Romances for Valentine's Day

This Valentine's Day, I'm celebrating some of my favorite couples from children's literature-- the ones I grew up reading and swooning over! Here are my top three couples that formed my young romantic ideals:

Betsy Ray and Joe Willard
Heaven to Betsy, by Maud Hart Lovelace

From the moment fourteen-year-old Betsy walks into Willard's Emporium and meets Joe, a brooding blond eating and apple and reading The Three Musketeers, we know she’s found her soulmate. He reads, he writes, he likes her hair straight... sigh! A series of misunderstandings keeps them apart over the years, but their journey to true love is delightful. Bonus points for a real-life connection: Joe is based on Delos Lovelace, Maud’s husband!

Photo from the Maud Hart Lovelace Society

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

"Carrots!" Ahh, the epically bad choice of teasing a girl to get her attention. But honestly, is there anything sweeter than Gilbert’s unending devotion to Anne, even when she tries her best to squelch him? The guy puts up with a lot. And then once they finally get their differences ironed out and get married, they have a whole boatload of adorable kids! The 1980s CBC miniseries with Jonathan Crombie doesn't hurt Gilbert’s image, either.

Yeah, um... he's okay.

Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

Meg and Calvin forever! I love that Calvin sees the beauty in Meg that nobody else seems to recognize. I love that he's the nice, popular guy who doesn't hesitate to hang out with the "weird" kids (i.e. Meg and her genius little brother, Charles Wallace). He's the answer to every awkward junior high school girl's prayer. And who among us didn't identify with Meg when we first read this series?

Bookworm confession: my husband and I strongly considered Calvin as a baby name when we were expecting our son. The husband was thinking Calvin & Hobbes, but I was ALL about Calvin O'Keefe, of course!

So which great couples of children's literature did YOU swoon over when you were a kid?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Audiobook Review: Hattie Big Sky

Larson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky. 2007. Listening Library. Audiobook $37.00. ISBN 9780739350515.

I never knew I was interested in the adventures of a girl trying to prove up on a homesteading claim in 1918 Montana until Kirby Larson wrote Hattie Big Sky. I love it when a book surprises me like that. 

Sixteen-year-old orphan, Hattie, inherits a piece of land that must be "proved up" on before it's hers, meaning that she must show evidence that she's living there and must meet certain farming requirements before the land is officially hers. She doesn't know a thing about farming, but she's up for the challenge.

The hardships of homesteading life are brought into vivid detail by Larson, who must have done extensive research. In addition to a multidimensional cast of characters that the reader grows to love and an episodic plot that borders on survival story at times, the setting and time period of the story are fascinating to me. Hattie is facing this incredibly intense pioneer lifestyle-- in 1918. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know people were still homesteading in 1918!

By that time, most people in urban or suburban areas were living comfortably with indoor plumbing and automobiles, not living in a tiny shack and hammering fence posts into the ground. Hattie's struggles to reach her own barn in a blizzard are juxtaposed with a sobering portrayal of the prejudice against German Americans during World War I, and the combination of these elements makes for a truly unique setting. Much more Little House on the Prairie than Betsy-Tacy.

The story has a satisfying and realistic ending that leaves the door open for more, so I just about squealed aloud when I read that Larson is working on a Hattie sequel. I can't wait to spend more time with this character.

I'm glad I experienced this most excellent book in audio format. Kirsten Potter's engaging narration made my daily commute much more vibrant than usual. Her voice sounds a bit more mature than I would imagine Hattie, but she's got a strong, down-to-earth quality that really works for the character. Potter makes the listener believe that this girl is no cream puff-- she's a driven young woman, and she's going to do everything in her power to succeed.

My children, ages three and one, are often subjected to random bits and pieces of whatever audiobook I'm listening to, and let's just say they don't hesitate to give me their opinions. (Seriously: there was another audiobook that actually made the one-year-old CRY every time we listened to it. Oops!) Well, Hattie got an enthusiastic seal of approval from my three-year-old. There's a particularly exciting chapter involving a cow, and every time we got into the car after that, it was, "Mama? Can listen to cow story, please?" We all loved this audiobook.

Hattie Big Sky was named a Newbery Honor book in 2007, and is very deserving of the award. I would recommend this rich and uplifting book to students assigned to read historical fiction for school, as well as readers who are already avid fans of the genre-- it's certain to please most any reader.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Midnight in Austenland. 288 p. Bloomsbury USA. 2012. Hardcover $22.00. ISBN 9781608196258.

When I heard that there was going to be a follow-up to Austenland (Bloomsbury, 2007), the first foray into adult-level fiction by Newbery Honor winning author Shannon Hale, I thought, "Yay! Wait... really?" Because that story wrapped up so nicely, you see. Did it need a sequel? Maybe, maybe not-- but Midnight in Austenland is a companion book, not a direct sequel. And it's so much fun!

There's a new main character, Charlotte, a recent divorcée who finds herself drawn to the titular Jane Austen reenactment vacation spot. As Charlotte immerses herself in the Regency-era lifestyle, there's an appealing blend of humor, self-discovery, and romance that fans of the first volume will love. And this time around, a new element is introduced in the form of a clever and engaging mystery. I had a great time reading this book.

I have to say, Shannon Hale is one of my very favorite authors. I read and love anything she writes, whether it's written for young readers or adults. Her writing for adults is markedly different from the books she writes for kids and teens-- it's conversational, quirky, and even a little sassy, rather than lyrical and lush. Reading one of her adult-level books feels kind of like getting a chance to hang out and chat with her.

(Speaking of which, have you listened to our Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast interview with Shannon? Love her!)

Midnight in Austenland is fresh, fast-paced, and simply an enjoyable read-- the perfect book for a cozy evening in. Brew a pot of tea and get ready for a delightful reading experience.

This book just came out at the end of January from Bloomsbury USA. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. 318 p. Dutton Juvenile. 2012. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780525478812.

What to say about this book? The Fault in Our Stars is what everyone says it is: funny, insightful, heartbreaking. A beautiful book. I don't feel like I can adequately express anything about this book, and I'm not sure how much I want to say, out of fear for spoiling any major plot points for those who haven't read it yet, so I'll keep my comments vague.

You probably know that the book is about two teens, afflicted with cancer, who fall in love. It's tragic and hilarious and sweet and devastating in a good way.

I finished this book in about two days-- so it'll probably only take one day for those of you without small children. Once I really got into it, I couldn't put it down and just ended up lying in bed, reading it obsessively.

I mean, not that I have time to lie in bed reading all day. With two little kids at home? No, this obsessive reading occurred at one o'clock in the morning. I lost sleep over this book! And any parent knows that's the mark of a really good book.

Of the many emotionally affecting aspects of this book, the thing that hit me hardest was the main character's concern for her parents' ability to cope once she was gone. I connected with a different part of the book than a lot of teens will, which just goes to show that this would be an excellent pick for a book club-- for teens or adults. It's richly layered and will mean different things to different readers.

The Fault in Our Stars is the kind of book that doesn't leave you once the last page has been turned. I know I'll go on thinking about this one for a while.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Librarian's Day in the Life

This week, I'm participating in #libday8, which is the 8th round of the Library Day in the Life Project.
The Library Day in the Life Project is a semi-annual event coordinated by Bobbi Newman  of Librarian by Day. Twice a year librarians, library staff and library students from all over the globe share a day (or week) in their life through blog posts, photos, video and Twitter updates.
Allow me to introduce myself for any new readers-- I'm the Teen Services Librarian at a large municipal library in suburban Southern California. We're a busy and bustling library serving a diverse population, and our patrons really value the resources and programs we offer. I love where I work!

My position is part-time. As the sole Teen Services Librarian, I serve on the adult and children's reference desks, providing research assistance and readers' advisory. I'm also responsible for ordering all teen books for the library's collection, both fiction and nonfiction. While we've had to cut back on hosting regular events for teens because of budget constraints, my library hosts awesome author events fairly frequently, and I help coordinate the ones for teens. I also run the Teen Summer Reading Program every year. 

So here's a day in my librarian life from earlier this week. Well, the highlights, anyway! I mean, I could include details about printing 20 new copies of teen book lists, or asking patrons to turn their cell phones to silent, but... really?

8:00 AM
I arrive at work to find a lovely box of donated books on my desk, including a much-needed copy of The Hunger Games. There are currently 73 people on hold for that book at my library, and the list is only going to get crazier as the movie release date approaches. So thank you, kind book donor!

I ready the reference desk for the day; make sure everything is in order and all the study rooms are unlocked  for patrons. As I'm doing that, I stop to admire the Valentine's Day book display my coworker put together on my day off yesterday. So charming!

9:00 AM
A stack of new teen books has arrived, so I look over the titles. I don't have time to read every book I order (even though I want to!), but I always look at each item, scan a few pages to check out the writing style and such. Familiarizing myself with the most recent additions to the collection helps me make better reading recommendations for patrons.

I pull older titles from the "New Teen Books" area to make room for the recent arrivals. There are currently almost 400 items in my library cataloged as “New YA,” and only about 70 of them are on the shelf right now. Excellent! That means this section is really doing its job: boosting circulation.

When I started this position, there was no “New Teen Books” section. The newest books would just be shelved unobtrusively with the rest of the YA collection. I wanted to create a very visible spot to showcase recent additions so the teens would know where to go for the newest, hottest titles. Thanks to support from my supervisor, as well as the cataloging and processing departments, our "New Teen Books" section is a hit!

10:00 AM
I set dates and start planning for upcoming Teen events at the library. One of our most dedicated volunteers made a generous donation to be used specifically for youth services, so I'm really excited about the opportunity to host a couple of special programs for teens this year. We’ll be hosting an anime festival this Spring and a National Gaming Day event in the Fall. My mind is spinning with the possibilities of candy sushi, industry guest speakers, and Rock Band.

I arrange for a school outreach visit later this month. I love school outreach! I get to read to a class of third graders, and will be joined by the darling therapy dog we use for the library's very popular "Read to a Dog" program. Who do you suppose will steal the show, hmm? (I don't mind.)

11:00 AM
An hour on the reference desk. A patron is looking for Valentine's Day books, but sadly, she's too late... they're all checked out. She's also looking for St. Patrick's Day books, and I'm happy to tell her we have plenty of those. Whew! I hate for anyone to walk away from the library empty-handed.

12:00 PM
Lunch time! I read while I eat; always trying to keep up with my reading goals. Today's selection:

It's rare that I read a book marketed for adults, but this one is written by one of my favorite children's/YA authors, Shannon Hale, and I'm finding it delightful.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Back on the reference desk for a two-hour shift. During the early afternoon, the crowd is mostly college students and older. Patrons are looking for business resources, tax forms, and they want to use the internet. Lots of questions about how to borrow ebooks from the library. Everyone got an ereader over the holidays, it seems!

Patrons need guidance to find the books they're seeking, so I walk around quite a bit during my reference shift. Good thing I'm wearing my favorite ballet flats today... super comfortable for all this walking, and also sparkly! I am determined to fight the "sensible shoe" librarian stereotype as much as possible.

3:00 PM
I start my monthly book order for February. Some titles I'm really looking forward to:

I also order additional copies of books that have an unfavorable requests ratio (e.g. the number of patron requests for an item versus th enumber of copies we own). We keep an eye on the requests ratio and try to order more copies of items with a long list of requests in order to shorten the amount of time patrons have to wait. Here's what I'm ordering this week, due to popular demand:

4:00 PM
Last hour of the work day: another reference desk shift. Now that school has let out, we have lots of student questions. Middle school students are borrowing text books from our reference collection so they can do their homework. One student is doing a report about the sinking of the Titanic; others need my help finding copies of their assigned reading books in the fiction section.

5:00 PM
My work day is over. Time to head home to my family! I take off my librarian hat and prepare to put on my mama hat for the rest of the evening.

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