Saturday, February 4, 2017

Secret Shopper Experience

As I pulled up to the library, I had this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach that kept nagging at me. "You're gonna mess this up, Laura!" Everyone has a particular skill set, but mine does not include acting. I stepped into the fiction section and saw two men working the desk and one of them was discussing something with another female librarian. I started to browse and waited to see if anyone would ask me if I needed any help. I felt so intimidated and I don't really know why. As if the library gods could feel my plight, within the first 2 minutes I after I walked into the Adult Fiction department the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate. You can't make this stuff up! While I was standing on the sidewalk waiting to go back inside I formulated a plan. When I was allowed back into the Adult Fiction department, I approached the gentlemen on duty at the desk and asked him if he could help me find a good book to read because it was my New Year's resolution to read more books instead of graphic novels.

Just a small part of the fiction section. There are nice displays,
staff picks, and popular books showcased by genre.
Immediately, we hit it off. I hit the librarian jackpot because this guy was also a huge graphic novel fan. Perhaps because it felt like we understood each other, he didn't really conduct a textbook reference interview. The only question he asked me was about what sorts of graphic novels that I liked to read. He had several selections in his mind, so he never looked at any websites or used any other tools. He left the desk and led me to the stacks where he took me to the books he had in mind. He put them in my hand and let me look at the covers/read blurbs, etc. while he told me about them. He also made sure to let me know if he had or had not read a specific title.

He recommended the following books to me:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This was recommended to me because it's about comic book creators. I've actually read this one and this is the only book that I didn't seem to fit for me. It's really more about the creators rather than the adventure and supernatural elements that I enjoy in graphic novels. That being said, I totally get why he would recommend this book to me and to be honest, if I were giving readers' advisory services to someone who liked graphic novels, I might recommend it too.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This isn't really about superheroes or comics, but he recommended it to me because it's a novel that includes a Dungeons and Dragons type of game and he thought I might like that as well. He hadn't read this book, but it was highly recommended to him by a fellow librarian.

A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

If you judge a book by its cover, this one is the winner for me. He recommended this book to me because it's about superheroes/villains who lose their powers and have to live in the world like normal people.

Baltimore or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire and Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola

His last "official" recommendations were two prose novels (although they do contain a few illustrations), by Mike Mignola, who is the creator of the Hellboy comics. He compared these to Lovecraft stories and thought I might enjoy them since I read The Walking Dead.

Although I had quite a stack of books in my hands, he continued to give me ideas and recommendations. He recommended Stephen King to me, and also mentioned the whole zombie novel genre. He also recommended that I check out Hoopla since they have a lot of comics since I enjoy them.

As for the environment of the fiction section, it didn't have any signs or handouts that indicated that they offered readers' advisory services. There were other papers at the desk, but they were mainly in reference to the computers that are also located in the department. There are displays as soon as you walk into the library that show bestseller lists from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The New York Times, Indie Bound and Publisher's Weekly.

Some of the bestseller lists on display
The library also had really nice book displays set up. They had tables devoted to different themes, staff picks, and they also showcase popular books by genre on the a few shelves when you walk in (with covers facing out to the patron).

A nice display for Black History Month.

In spite of the lack of a real reference interview, I had an excellent experience at with the librarian I spoke with. He was personable and he seemed to be truly excited to get to recommend books to a patron. At the end of the transaction, he thanked me for asking him for help because he enjoyed being able to recommend books. He also mentioned that the library staff just had a meeting last week about recommending more books to patrons. He also let me know that if I didn't like the titles that he chose, he'd be more than happy to help me find others to read. I left the library feeling good about the transaction because it seemed to me like he finally got to act like a librarian, rather than the keeper of the computers.


  1. I love the pictures and how you narrated your visit! It's awesome! I'm glad you had a great experience, while yes it wasn't much of an formal interview it was great to see that he didn't get totally thrown out of his comfort zone like from many experiences I've read on other blogs (including my own).

  2. I have a musical theatre background and this type of "pretending" assignment still gives me anxiety, so you're not alone! I forgot to include pictures, but I enjoyed seeing yours. You did a great job describing your interaction with the librarian. Sounds like he helped you find some titles you will hopefully enjoy. I definitely don't think the lack of a formal reference interview was a hindrance in this interaction.

  3. That sounds like such a great experience! I love all of their displays and materials showing patrons what books are currently popular and what books they enjoy reading.

  4. I love that you included pictures! They really help illustrate your experience. Great job!