Library Participants

January 27, 2008

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 She argued that both terms relate to an outdated “us and them” model of library service and she asks for a new term to fit the “us and us” culture we all want.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.


Panera Fridays

January 24, 2008

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?


Networking with the 20s and 30s

January 3, 2008

Is your library interacting with Gen Y adults? If not, why not? A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study suggests they are the portion of the adult population most likely to visit a public library. They are also more tech savvy than any other group.

Here’s my suggestion: Use Facebook and MySpace to reach different age groups. During a recent email exchange with librarians talking about teens, I suggested that they aim their new Facebook page at an older demographic. Continue the flashy teen-related agenda on MySpace but change gears and go after the twenty- and thirty-somethings on Facebook. Don’t make the Facebook page a mere copy of MySpace.

“It need not exclude teens, but targeting Gen Y adults might help select more appropriate apps and give 20/30-somethings a place they feel more comfortable with.”

The initial response was hesitation: it would mean lost opportunities to publicize teen events. Besides, it was said, there aren’t many programs and events to highlight for 20/30’s anyway.

That was exactly my point! Let’s become more relevant to them though the social web.

While many 20s/30s are beyond the teen stuff, they aren’t always tied into any college networks or resources either. They are the people a public library might want to find and connect with using social networking. They need it! Job hunting, residence finding, reliable transportation, starting families, the new world of income tax, and money juggling are all issues to them. We have the resources.

I’m familiar with one library that has a marketing plan filled with programs geared toward kids, teens, and patrons over 55. There’s a huge gap there waiting to be explored. Dismal turnouts at past programs for adults usually discourages interest in considering them, but I’d be willing to bet social networking — available from home at personally convenient times — is the key to that group.

Let the library’s MySpace page cater to teens, but develop a Facebook presence that’s fun, attractive, and useful to that neglected decade of library patrons. Would any public library be willing to try it?


Social Crosswords Made Easy

December 5, 2007

Alex Byrne, Youth Services librarian at the University Place Library (WA), decided to tape a crossword puzzle and a pencil to the wall. Anyone is welcome to add a word if they know one, turning this into a social crossword puzzle. How simple!

He plans to add a magnetic chessboard to the wall, too. Teens might enjoy the novelty of playing chess on the wall.

Not all collaboration has to be online, but offering fun ways to participate at the library — that’s cool!


Interaction is crucial

October 16, 2007

Libraries must become more participatory with their communities. Stored information is not enough. Interaction is crucial. That will be a recurring theme for me here, I’m sure. The societal trends are overwhelming.

In Chronicles of Bean today, Cindi referred to a short video by Michael Wesch* of Kansas State University that gives some interesting numbers from a college student’s world today. The data is radically different from what young people faced just 5 or 10 years ago.

The video segment that screamed loudest to me was the young woman who held a sign saying that she will read 8 books this year … but 2,300 web pages and 1,281 Facebook profiles.

My question: Do we want our library to provide her just the 8 books, or do we want to transform the meaning of a library into something she can interact with?

—–
* Cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, by the way, created another thought-provoking and visually interesting video last spring: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us. His recent Information R/evolution is an excellent video, too.