Tag Archives: patrons

A library is like a kitchen

8 May

It’s where the magic happens!

  • There are tools involved, some very specialized, in the form of databases, services like ILL and circulation, and the librarians themselves.
  • The reference section could be like cookbooks, in that there’s a lot of good stuff in there, but it’s pretty standard and safe, with not a lot of wiggle room.
  • The process of searching for information is a lot like a tile backsplash…functional yet pretty, and even if you make a mess it’s easy to clean up.
  • Some really neat, esoteric things can be found in the corners (anyone else have a chinoise?)

And lest we forget, the patron is the cook/chef!  Ultimately in charge of what’s produced there, able to adhere to the tried and true, or free to strike out on his or her own and create something new and exciting.


The trouble with social media

17 Apr

By now everyone should be familiar with Google+, and how amazingly not-popular it is, compared to the juggernauts its other products are (except for other attempts at social media).  Google+ illustrates the core problem inherent in social media: people don’t use it, so it becomes less popular, and people use it less.

If you move to a social media platform, you had best make certain that your target audience is already on that platform.  They won’t move for you.  People are only willing to adjust their social media in small ways, to accommodate a new interaction.  The only time you see people moving en masse is when a service becomes unusable, either because the audience’s friends aren’t there or because the service has upset its constituents to the point that they combine clout and move as part of a concerted, punitive effort.

The other problem, at least for some, is distilling the information overload.  That’s a personal problem, easily addressable, if not addressed.  Having so much data coming at you and trying to discern some meaningful information from it can be a challenge to many, but with practice it does get easier.

How can a library avoid this problem?  I think the best answer to many library questions is simple: know your patrons.  Know where they hang out and focus your efforts there.  If you love and adore Twitter, but all your patrons use Facebook, not even multiple status updates about your new Twitter will move those patrons to Twitter.  Find the confluence and work in the happy equilibrium.  What are your thoughts about the trouble with social media, and how do you address those??

Laws of the Library: a plea to patrons

11 Mar

  1. Please, please do not reshelve the books yourself.  I know it probably seems like common sense, but 8 times out of 10, that book did not come from where you think it did.  If you’re even 1 digit off, that book is technically “lost” because it’s not in its place.  It may be easy to find again, but if you miss an entire shelf, it’s not.
  2. Understand that while we do know a lot about computers, how they work, and particularly how to find information using one, this does not make us computer engineers.  For some of us, it doesn’t even qualify us as experts.  Your previous local librarian, who also happened to code for open-source during vacation?  Was not me, and wasn’t a common breed to begin with.
  3. Please don’t ask me where “that book [you] looked at 2 years ago is?” because if you didn’t check it out, I have no idea what book it is.  Telling me the color of the cover doesn’t help.
  4. I am not your babysitter, for your baby or your personal belongings.  If you ask if it’s ok to leave your iPod, cell phone, and laptop on a table while you go to the restroom, I’m going to tell you it’s fine but that I’m not going to watch your possessions.  Don’t glare at me because I’m helping other people instead of sitting on your stuff.
  5. If you come up to me in a bad mood, chances are good that it will telegraph.  I understand, but don’t expect me to be perky and effusive in the face of your gloom.
  6. Understand I can’t be everything to everyone.  I may not be able to help, but I promise I’ll find someone who can.  That does not mean I am incompetent, nor rude, nor “against” you.  It just means I’m not an expert at the universe.
  7. Forgive me when I make a mistake.  If I’ve been working for 10 hours, or on a solo shift, I’m tired.  I’m a bit slow, and I still want to help.  I’ll give you my best, but I don’t promise it’s as fast as it was at the start of my day.
  8. I have a personal life.  Do not be angry that I want to leave when the library closes instead of keep it open just so you can have another 30 minutes on Facebook.

You are human

20 Feb

Alternately, “Coping with Stress”.

Everyone has bad days.  I certainly have, and they all revolve around disappointment in myself, one way or another.  Being short with a patron because of a headache, or trying to help and having it refused, or not being able to find the answer you know exists in the timeframe you wanted, having to tell the patron you’ll “get back to them”.  All things that can make you feel like you didn’t try hard enough, or that you somehow failed in your job’s responsibilities.

This mindset has the potential to ruin your day, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.  If nothing else, I’ve found one thing is helpful in overcoming the feeling of having a setback or of failure: remind yourself that you are human.  We librarians, like many other professionals, hold ourselves to a high standard of behavior and performance.  So high that we can’t meet them 100% of the time, over decades of working on the job, and in some sort of effort to keep it from ever happening again, we speak harshly to ourselves sometimes as we’re frustrated with our “deficiencies” or “mistakes”.

There will always be someone you can’t help, an answer you don’t know, days when you go to work because you love it even when you’re sick.  It’s human thing.  That’s ok.  We’re allowed to be humans first, then librarians and archivists.  If you remind yourself of that on a bad day, you’re halfway to getting back on track to a good one and all it took was one affirmation.  You are human.

Annoyed and Annoyed

8 Feb

I can’t tell you how angry situations like this make me.  You might love Annoyed Librarian, you might hate her (him?), but you can’t deny there are salient points in that blog post.  Go read it.  Seriously.


Ok, now that we’re all back here, let’s break this down.  In a list of 41 rules in 5 categories, we restrict people’s behavior in ways that clearly have no impact on the mission of the library, assuming they define that as “access to information.”  It’s designed, they say, for the “comfort and safety” of the patrons and staff.  Well, things like moving furniture could be for the comfort of the patron, but against the comfort of the staff – they’re the ones moving it back to where it belongs.  Here’s a thought: what about the comfort of the mother bringing in her two elementary school children for story hour or to do homework, and the children see a woman spread-eagle?  That’s not comfortable for her, and she’s just as much a patron as the viewer of the porn.  But viewing porn, in a public area, is “information” the patrons should have a right to access, according to the creators and defenders of this policy.

No, it’s not.

There is no informative value you derive from porn in a public setting.  The ALA and I have a disagreement (that they’re not aware we, specifically, are in, though they’d have to be nuts not to realize there are librarians out there who find their stance on porn access distasteful) on this in the worst way.  I don’t think there needs to be any access to porn in libraries, and Annoyed makes an excellent point: is there a law requiring libraries to provide Internet access to porn?  I rather doubt there is such a thing, but I do know there are laws about common decency and community morality.  I know that, because the ALA lost a Supreme Court case about just such a topic.  I know that, because it’s how police officers arrest non-intoxicated people for public urination.

So why is the ALA OIF and the ACLU pursuing this agenda?  I have no clue, and I’m not sure I want to understand why organizations so devoted to “access to information” aren’t devoting more resources to keeping libraries and librarians in schools, where students need the information provided and the help librarians can offer.  I can see that porn in libraries is more politically glamorous, but which is more heroic?

The more I read about eBook lending, and pornography in libraries being viewed in public, the more I’m convinced that access to information is a concept very badly misunderstood by those whose professional duty is to provide it.  Access to information is providing that which your patrons find of value.  The community informs the library about the material from which it derives value, and if you get people complaining about the type of information to which you’re providing access, then you are not doing your job.  By the way, every community I’ve ever read about that challenges the access to porn policy of a library has overwhelming patron support.

So, what can we do to change the way we perceive “access to information”?  My first thought is for librarians to stop assuming we know what will best benefit our community, and start listening instead.  What are your ideas?

Customer service, a skill

1 Feb

Some days progress more satisfactorily than others; that’s not fatalism, it’s just a fact borne out of experience.  Those days aren’t always followed by a “high” of accomplishment or improvement, but more likely than not, a steady, plodding progression of days and hours without distinguishing factors.

It’s worse when you deal with people as a primary function of your job.  Not the people you work with, because those individuals belong to a group whose goals you (theoretically) share.  The public, who have no stake in the outcome of your work and its success, yet form an integral part of your job function, are an interesting animal with whom to deal.  Perhaps that’s the wrong perspective – “dealing with people” is suggesting that interactions are a burden to be endured instead of a relationship to establish.

Think back to when you start dating a person: you each offer the best version of yourself, in hopes that the good parts of your nature will overcome the eventual warts the other person will see.  We offer to the public our best selves (or we ought to), to receive from them a self that isn’t as dolled up.  Interacting with someone when they’re in a hurry, frustrated, or in need seldom brings out the best in that person.  What to do?

Benefit of doubt is an amazing tool: instead of conducting your business by rote, take a moment to create a back story for each person.  It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, as long as it provides you with a reasonable explanation for their behavior that also gives you a chance to feel sympathy toward them.  Sincerity is powerful in interpersonal relationships, and the best way to convince someone you’re sincere is to be sincere.  Even if the reason isn’t correct.

How much is too much service?

9 Jan

I’ve taken a lot of heat for my views on a certain topic.  Ever since entering library school, I’ve been one of the few who felt this way, and probably the only one who was willing to speak up in class about it.  Whenever librarians get together and pat themselves on the back for “teaching”, or for having a high-minded, lofty mission statement or goals list for their libraries, I shake my head.

You see, the view I’ve taken criticism for is: librarians often provide too much service.  We’re so concerned with our goals, missions, and our desire to help out our patrons and foster information independence, that we forget the business we’re in is customer service on a basic level.  We overlook forests for trees, and alienate some of our patrons because of it.

Some patrons adamantly refuse to become information independent; you know these people, the elderly person who complains about how much simpler things are on paper, the average (or below average) student who declares at the reference desk, “I am computer illiterate” before even asking a question.  There are some people you just can’t reach, teach, or show.  They just want you to give them their answer and send them on their way.  Assuming this isn’t a young child, I venture a guess and say that they’re not likely to have a lot of reference questions.  Strictly from an ROI standpoint, it’s a better strategy to just answer the question.

Then there are others, who have a mid-level enquiry and want some assistance.  We love our databases, ILL and resources, so we tell them all about our services…only to have their eyes glaze over, because we’ve given them a deluge when they wanted a trickle.  Pointing them in the direction they want to go, and giving a basic tutorial is generally sufficient.

The last patrons are the ones who can never have too much service.  Seasoned researchers, professional academics, people for whom finding data and synthesizing it into information, creating conclusions and contributing to a field of study are worth the time it takes to go in-depth and tease out questions, expanding and contracting research focus in order to find just the right resource.

But the bottom line: know who you’re dealing with, and be sensitive to their actual needs, not just the needs we’d like to think they have.