Dirty Secrets

11 Jan

Maybe not a dirty secret, but definitely something we as professionals don’t advertise to our patrons. Here it is (and if you haven’t gotten your feet wet with work in the field yet, you’ll find out): We think our patrons always need us, but we know they don’t.

A huge symptom of this is the feeling that when providing reference assistance, you need to explain everything you’re doing to your patron. Telling ourselves that we’re doing it to educate them and they’ll benefit from it in the long term doesn’t change the fact that we’re forcing them to listen to a litany of actions we’ve taken on their behalf. This can be for many reasons, but at least part of this interaction is the librarian or archivist’s attempt to justify ourselves to our patrons. A sort of “you need me, here’s why…you’d never have known to search like this on your own!”. That’s where we’re wrong.

Our patrons don’t need us in that way. They may get better answers, or get them faster, if they use our services but with Google as powerful and present as it is they’re more than capable of finding some answer without us. Our profession is afflicted with the belief that no one understands how important a function we serve, and this is the other part to our secret: they might think we’re important but they don’t think we’re as important as we think we are. Inflated ego.

So what are we to do about this?  Learn to read our patrons better!  I’ve found there are those who want to know how to get answers, those who are indifferent, and those who don’t want to know the details of searching.  The former two groups will have teachable moments, and I would show those patrons what I’m doing, where I’m searching and why I’m doing it.  I also operate on the assumption that not every patron has time for me, and that their body language and tone of voice will tell me which group they fall into.  Fostering independence in our patrons is a great ideal and we should work toward that, but our overall mission is to give each patron a favorable impression of the service they got at the library.  If they had to sit through “long” explanations, they aren’t as enthusiastic about asking again; isn’t coming back what we want them to do?

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One Response to “Dirty Secrets”

  1. Corban January 13, 2011 at 15:59 #

    Answer, don’t enlighten.

    I can be long-winded in my subjects of expertise, and a friend gave me these words. The desire to help is not to be suppressed, only redirected. Answering is in the present, but enlightenment’s in the future. If they want more, they will ask for it. Forcing enlightenment is dictating their future.

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