If you didn’t know, Pew Internet released a new survey about libraries today. It’s called Library Services in the Digital Age (there are lots of things in there I won’t be addressing but that are also worth noting), and I’ve seen some emphasis this part:
In general, Americans feel somewhat well-informed about the various services offered by their local libraries. While about one in five (22%) feel they are aware of “all or most” of the services and programs their public library offers, a plurality (46%) feel they just know of “some” of what their library offers. Another 20% say they know “not much” about services offered by their library, and 11% say they know “nothing at all” about what is available at their library.
It goes on to relate patrons’ stories about how they hear (or don’t hear) about programs, sometimes too late to participate.
I will absolutely acknowledge that marketing/advertising is a problem for many libraries (I’ve worked at one such library), so there are definitely shortcomings that can be addressed.
But I’ve also been thinking about how I would answer that question myself, as a patron rather than as a librarian.
The Pew question was this (from page 14):
Now thinking more broadly…overall, how well-informed do you feel you are about the different services and programs your public library offers? Do you feel like you know…
ALL or MOST of the services and programs your library offers
SOME of what it offers
NOT MUCH of what it offers
Nothing at all
Answering this as a patron, I’d have to say I know only some of what my public library offers. Which is to say, I know of those things that are pertinent to my interests and while I know vaguely that there are other services and programs (e.g. storytimes, downloadable things), I don’t pay attention to those because they don’t pertain to me.
So is it really a problem that these patrons don’t know ALL of the things offered by their library, so long as they know about things that would be of interest to them?
To me, the fact that 68% of patrons know some, most, or all of the services and programs offered by their library is awesome! Despite what some are saying (e.g. Sorry, 22% is Not Enough), I don’t think the 22% is something to worry about. I’d worry more about the 31% who know “not much” or “nothing” about what the library offers—it seems to me that’s the number that needs to be worked on most.
A note: since I recently moved, I can honestly say that I don’t yet know all of the services offered by the library where I am now employed, much less about my local public library. Instead, I’m thinking about this in the context of the public library I used in Maryland, where I was a pretty frequent user for almost five years.
Whether you’re just joining or have been part of this profession for a while, we all have our goals. Ultimately, we want to provide as much as we can in the best possible way in order to make people happy, regardless of what our title or work place looks like.Except no matter what you do and no matter how hard you work on something, you’re sometimes going to piss people off at the same time, be it patrons or be it your colleagues. There is no way to be an effective change maker or advocate for yourself and services without making someone unhappy.…To be as good as you want to be and to further your goals in providing the best service and experience as a librarian, you have to suck it up and stick to your beliefs.That’s not to say don’t follow the rules. Just push against them as much as you need to. That’s the only way change can happen. If it means pissing off one or two or six people for the betterment of a community? It’s worth it.
As for libraries, in the ’90s, we opened up our catalogs to the public. You no longer had to go through a librarian to search the online catalog.
The problem, though, was that we didn’t ask any new questions. The question that guided the development of these tools was still “How do librarians do this?” The tools were still built for experts, but we let anyone with a modem use them.
But recently some libraries have started asking a new question: “How do our users do this?” By starting with this question, we put human behavior at the center of our thinking. But how do we find out what our users do?
Like many librarians, I was a frequent user of libraries as a child. Yet I have always avoided asking for help. I wrote an entire undergraduate thesis without talking to a librarian. If I didn’t understand something, I’d find a way to figure it out myself.
For years, my experiences fueled my desire to make the reference desk more approachable. There’s considerable research on library anxiety, and many people see libraries as a place with lots of rules they don’t understand. I still believe in the value of making the library more user-friendly, but I don’t think approachability is the only reason why people aren’t using reference services.
Like me, many people simply want to figure things out for themselves. And when there’s something about the library they don’t understand, they won’t go to the reference desk. They’ll go elsewhere.
This is very much like my own experiences—the only time I went near a desk was to check things out.
1. Undergraduate students are not you at that age.
2. Every college/university has its own way of treating librarians.
3. For most students, asking librarian for help is a last resort.
10. You will spend more time in meetings than you can imagine.
Deafness is an invisible disability. It’s easy to remember to make sure that there are ramps and elevators for people using crutches or wheelchairs. It’s easy to be aware of the blind person navigating the library with a cane or a seeing eye dog. But it’s not so easy to be aware that someone is deaf unless they have short hair and colorful, clearly visible earmolds.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to accommodate the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, making them feel more welcome in the library. I can write at length on the subject, but for now, I’ll give you tips on two things: communication and accessibility of library programs and services.
Why Support Your Local Library? [infographic]
As online resources become more complex, we need wise humans to help act as guides. Librarians know how to do that better than you do. Ask them for help. They also, typically, are warm, curious, helpful people.
INFOGRAPHIC: U.S. Public Libraries Weather the Storm
Google has not killed the library and ebooks won’t do it either. The biggest threat to the public library in American culture is limited hours. In the new budget reality if libraries are forced to dramatically decrease their hours then they will be drastically reduced in their ability to serve their public.[…]
The public library in America will only be irrelevant when it is inaccessible.
Food for thought: to what extent does this extend to libraries? (I suspect the type of library makes a difference in the answer to that question!)