Library Participants

Helene Blowers posted a excellent revival of the “patron vs. customer” discussion on her LibraryBytes blog this week. She argued that both terms relate to an outdated “us and them” model of library service and she asks for a new term to fit the “us and us” culture we all want. I’ve never heard the debate put quite that way. (Leave it to Helene to get to the heart of an issue!) Her brief analysis got many people thinking and her readers’ comments were wonderful. Here are my two cents worth:

Thank you for “thinking about things too much”, Helene!” I’ve never liked customer but agree with you about the baggage even patron carries.

Suppose we use the term participant. It expresses the “us and us” concept but lacks the subordination of one “us” compared to the other. Isn’t participation the goal of a modern library? We strive to enrich our communities and welcome all participants — us and us alike.

6 Responses to Library Participants

  1. Alex says:

    I’ve always been a big fan of “user” when thinking about the peoples who come in an use the library’s resources. Which makes library staff expert users (or paid users, as you like) who happen to know a bit more about things, who can organize things to be easy to find, and who can fill gaps when our knowledge base turns out to be missing or light on something. Our users includes ourselves, because we use the library, too.

  2. I think that all of the terms – user, patron, customer, and participant – focus on who is now using the library. However, we also need to focus on the residents of our communities who are not using our libraries and find out about their needs. This way we can provide services that will encourage their use of the library.

  3. Alex says:

    Sometimes it’s services that we’re not offering which can make a difference – at other times, I wonder whether those who don’t use the library stay away because they don’t know all of what we have available. For those of us on the inside, it’s easy to say “But we’ve got all this Great Stuff – who wouldn’t want to come in?” Well, knowing is half the battle – the other half is getting over the inertia of “Grey-haired shushers” (I can hear them still hissing at me for that one). What the most fruitful study results for me would be ones that address those two questions – how many people know most, if not all, of what the library has, and why do they stop coming around at whatever point in heir lives that they do?

  4. Amanda says:

    Our word was “users” before our director became infatuated by the “customer” label a couple years ago. Most of the staff grudgingly adapted, but some vocal users told us they were most definitely NOT our customers. We’re rethinking now.

  5. Nadine says:

    OK, this is long ago enough so no one will probably see it, but what about “consituent”? I do like user, but that leaves out non-users. Constituent implies, to put it in election terms, those who are flocking to the polls as well as those who don’t.

  6. Alex says:

    That’s pretty cumbersome, even though it’s pretty accurate. “Constituent”… hrm. Sounds like the library is campaigning for something, like tax increases for more services, potentially complete with slick-looking frontperson smilling and trying to sell the public on the latest need for cash.

    Or maybe I’ve been corrupted by the associations with elected officials and can’t disentangle them enough to get a purer picture of the library.

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