All day long, booksellers in all our stores field questions, give recommendations, run quick research on books for special requests, and more. The children’s department is a hotbed for tricky questions because customers are so often buying for a reader other than themselves. For a long time, we’ve talked about how to best pool our resources and round out our individual knowledge bases, but it’s not easy. When I came to BookPeople, the children’s department relied heavily on comprehensive searchable notes in book files in our POS system. But that became cumbersome over time to keep updated, consistent and current as the searches became burdened by books no longer carried. Then we experimented with a shared Google reference doc that could help direct people to the right books for common requests—as well as help find stories for specific historical fiction periods (which comes up for school assignments). This was an excellent tool for a couple of years, until the same issues began to raise their heads and the whole thing started to feel overloaded. We have, over the last few years, done a lot of work honing our section titles in the store to help customer (and staff) more easily find book for commonly asked questions, but I feel like we can still do more to share knowledge amongst ourselves—especially within our core group of children’s book specialists.
In a store like ours, we get pretty spread out, not all working at the same time in the same place. Given that, how do we make sure we are collectively learning from our daily interactions so that we all keep getting better at what we do? If someone comes up with a genius answer to a tricky question, we all benefit from adding that to our mental archives. And if someone has a missed opportunity, either in a query that didn’t end with a book found or some other puzzle, we could all up our game by trying to brainstorm it after the fact. At a Children’s Institute panel, I heard someone mention that their store shares a nightly wrap-up email among kids’ staffers with some quick hits from the day — either funny moments, triumphant successes, or an interaction when someone felt like they struck out.
I loved the concept, although I don’t know that a daily email work for us. But it jogged a thought… what if we started a department journal for people to jot notes in at the end of their shift? Non-specialists would be welcome to add notes as well (which might help us track what they need help with), but our core team can use it as a sort of journal that we can pull out at our biweekly team meetings to remind us about what’s been going on and possibly prompt valuable discussions. I’ve gotten some good feedback about this idea internally, but tell me, what does your store do? I’m on vacation this week and am blogging from a hotel room, but I plan to start get something started when I get back. Any genius tips out there to help us round this idea out?