One new service my library has debuted since closing our doors to the public due to COVID-19 is Book Care Packages and they’re going like gangbusters. Patrons fill out a form on our website to request a Book Care Package (personalized selections) or a Grab Bag (“random” selections for either ages 0-3, ages 3-6, or ages 6-8). I’ve wanted to offer this type of service for many years. With our patrons unable to browse the shelves, now was the perfect time to get it going.
Many libraries offer similar services. I based our Book Care Packages form on Seattle Public Library’s Your Next 5 Books reading recommendation forms. Other libraries offering similar services include Hinsdale (IL) Public Library’s Book Boxes, Coos Bay Public Library’s BookBox, Eisenhower Public Library’s YA’ll Read Teen Subscription Boxes, and Greenwood (IN) Public Library’s Your Next Favorite Book. Some of these libraries include trinkets or candy and are packaged like a paid subscription box. Some libraries send their readers a list of books that they can request themselves. We went somewhere in the middle with a simple request form and pulling 10 children’s books or 5 teen or adult books and putting them on hold for curbside pickup.
Once all the books are on hold, I send patrons an email explaining why those books were chosen for them. If they requested Grab Bags with no personalization, I use a form email that thanks them for supporting the library and gives them information about our curbside pickup procedures. If they requested any personalization or Book Care Packages, I customize the email to explain why the titles were chosen for them.
I love sending them a personalized email and it’s an important part of our program (inspired by Seattle Public Library). It shows patrons that I put some thought into selecting books for them. The personalized email is what makes them truly Book Care Packages. I can mention particular favorites or that some of the books are the first book in a series. I can also let them know that if I missed the mark and sent them titles they didn’t enjoy or aren’t interested in I would be happy to try again. That personal touch is much needed right now when many folks are feeling isolated.
I would say that at least 75% of our requests have asked for some level of customization, even in the Grab Bags. Our marketing coordinator was surprised by that. I was not. Libraries are more than just book warehouses and one of our huge strengths is in being book experts for our community. Yes, there are some readers who will pick up anything and devour any book in sight. But there are a LOT of readers whose tastes are more specific. If you hand them any old book that’s not something they care about, they’re not going to read it or enjoy it. But if you put the time and effort into matching these readers with the perfect book you could be sparking a lifetime of reading joy. That’s what makes these Book Care Packages.
Comments on this service have been overwhelmingly positive. Our patrons are loving it and I pulled and matched over 900 books in our first week. After the initial rush, our requests have now slowed down to a few a day, which is very manageable.
The amazing thing is that this is a service that we would have been happy to provide at any time had patrons asked. From the beginning of our curbside services, we would have been happy to pull books for anyone. A few asked, but most did not even think about it. Making it easy to request and inviting our patrons to ask made a huge difference.
One more element of this service is important to me. Whenever possible (and it’s almost ALWAYS possible), I am including books by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). These titles should be part of our regular reader’s advisory routine. It may take conscious thought to make it a habit of including them. If you don’t already have the habit going, there’s no greater time than the present to start working on it. The more you do it, the easier it gets as you fill your toolbox with readalikes for popular series and purchase multiple copies of your favorites so that you always have them on hand.
Does your library offer a personalized suggestions service? What has worked for you or what are you excited to try?
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, & IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.
Our library system has offered something similar for children entering grades k-5 called Lit Kits to Go. In addition to selecting library books based on patron preferences, we add crafts and educational activities which are then bundled and bagged in what we call a “Lit Kit.” Patrons are able to submit a Lit Kit request form each week.
The Lit Kit to Go service, which began June 1, has been a hit. As of July 6, we’ve received 489 Lit Kit requests through our online request form. Additional requests have come in using a pencil and paper form, but we have not yet tallied those numbers.
The service was formulated in response to Covid-19 when we cancelled all our summer children’s programs. That said, it’s been our silver lining. Staff members are having a great time selecting books and materials for the kids, and the patrons are excited and surprised by the customized contents. Currently, we are administering a survey to garner feedback on whether we should continue offering the service beyond the summer months and Covid-19 closures.
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