Do versus Ought

5 Dec

Last week, I told you about the reorganizing of our materials and how standard systems had let me and my patrons down.  This week, I want to follow that with the question that’s at the heart of the matter.

What does and what should your library do for patrons?  Are they the same thing?


I say no.  In our case, it was using a standard cataloging system without examining whether or not it met the needs of our service population.  As I said last week, the root of the reshelve was that our patrons don’t do pure research, and the cataloging system is designed to facilitate pure research.  There are only two options with this: you push pure research onto patrons who don’t do and aren’t comfortable with it by doing “reference instruction” and workshops on using the library.  Or, you observe what your patrons are already doing, and how they use information, ask for their feedback, and make changes to accommodate existing behaviors and needs.

I’m not saying we should let our patrons stagnate, but you know that saying about horses and water?  It applies.  We can’t force patrons to care about research the way we do, and our sense of professional integrity shouldn’t hang on the converts we’ve made, but the people we’ve helped.

I leave you this entreaty: examine what your patrons need from you, discarding any idea of what you want to give them, and see if there are ways you can improve the system by which you meet those needs.


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