BackTalk: And the Oscar Goes to...

By Deborah Vroman

The Richard Bland College (RBC) Library in Petersburg, VA, has an extensive and impressive collection of feature films on DVD. This wide array of approximately 2000 discs has been made available in large part by a mysterious benefactor, referred to by library staff as 'The Anonymous Donor,' who deposits gift films in the library's drop box every week or so. While supporting the curriculum is paramount, the library's impressive collection of classic and current feature films is a huge draw, bringing undergraduates and staff to the library on a recurring basis.

Challenges associated with circulation, cataloging, and shelf maintenance aside, the DVDs have had a great impact on our reference service. While some patrons know exactly what they want, or simply prefer to browse titles on their own, a great many of RBC's library patrons now seek assistance with their DVD selections. Patrons expect library staff to recommend anything from likable romantic comedies to fast-paced action films, gritty crime dramas, and sometimes just 'something good.'

Did you see that one?

Recommending movies comes easier to staff who are avid film watchers themselves. All staff in the RBC Library, however, are asked to recommend titles and often at a moment's notice. Over time, we have gotten better and more efficient when it comes to feature film advisory, thanks to a few key guidelines.

First, be prepared to suggest titles that you yourself would never watch. Don't let your disdain for particular genres such as teenage comedies, cliché romances, or bloody slashers show through in your interaction with patrons.

Remember that feature film inquiries are worthy of an actual reference interview. Don't make assumptions regarding what your patrons may be seeking. Establish a dialog, and ascertain just what films they are hoping to borrow. Apply the same supportive and open-minded techniques you would use in traditional reference service to feature film advisory. Accept that film appreciation is subjective and that your patrons will have a wide array of preferences.

Critics aside, public opinion is what most often dictates box office success - and your patrons are the very public who make or break feature films at the box office. So get to know them. Engage them in conversation when they return movies. Ask how they liked their selections. Not only are you interacting with your patrons in a manner that makes them feel valued and respected, you are also building your arsenal of movie knowledge for future recommendations.

Paging Leonard Maltin

As DVD advisory has increasingly become expected and as the collection has grown, the RBC Library staff often found themselves challenged to come up with worthwhile movie titles on the spot. So, with our growing arsenal of films and film knowledge, we decided to create our own list, accessible online, of recommended movie titles to assist with DVD advisory.

The list is prefaced with our selection criteria, along with a disclaimer regarding the subjectivity of film appreciation. Because we do not order feature films for patrons through interlibrary loan, our list only contains titles held in our collection. The lengthy list is broken into genres and then subdivided by specific themes, styles, and content.

Of course, you can also assist patrons with 'If you liked X, then you might like Y' scenarios using a combination of resources, including your own knowledge of films, film guides and reviews, searching your OPAC, and checking online sources such as and The Internet Movie Database. While full-fledged movie guides such as VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever and Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide certainly have their uses, we have found them almost too comprehensive for those patrons popping in for a movie and expecting a quick recommendation from staff.

Back to the future

Given patrons' increased demand for films in libraries, the need for DVD advisory will undoubtedly continue to rise. Though recreational cinema may appear less significant than a scholarly book collection, film collections are prized and highly desired by patrons.

While it is wonderful to be popular with staff and students, the availability of so many discs can be a strain for a small library staff. Sometimes, the library staff can't help but lament that the 'New Books' display goes unnoticed while patrons make a beeline for the DVDs. Nevertheless, DVD advisory is not an incidental or occasional service to be taken lightly but rather a legitimate form of reference service worthy of a proactive attempt on our part to guide our users into making film selections. Creating a lengthy film guide for our patrons was a time-consuming process, but we anticipate that it will ultimately be a timesaving enterprise.

Author Information
Deborah Vroman is Assistant Director and Public Services Librarian, Richard Bland College of the College of William and Mary, Petersburg, VA.

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