Why I Say Patron

Patrons say patron.  Always call people what they want to be called.

Ok and also,

I think patron most perfectly encapsulates the relationship between the library and the user, wherein the library is dependent on the goodwill of the user in order to continue its existence. I think the use of the term customer is detrimental, in that it sets up expectations for an entirely different relationship, one which runs counter to library ethics, one which exists primarily in a for-profit environment, where buying power determines worth.  I really do believe strongly that the word patron is still at the heart of the library’s relationship to its users.

And just one more thing,

Patron is a gender neutral term, like actor.

Front Desk 1990-91

How to Help When You Don’t Want to Help

The other day I answered a reference question from an inmate on death row.  My sense is that it is not uncommon for prisoners to write to libraries  with requests for information. In thinking about writing this post I looked around a bit online and discovered that the NYPL even has a department dedicated to correctional services (although I believe they do outreach, in addition to answering letters).

 

In what was probably  a mistake, I Googled the prisoner’s name.  I found news articles which described his conviction in a pretty horrific crime of vengeance.  Now, everyone deserves library service; it doesn’t matter if you’re in prison or free, it doesn’t matter what crimes you may have committed, it doesn’t matter what your state of mind or your values are.  Creeps, crazies, and criminals are all entitled to use the library, just like the rest of us. And to get good service too.

 

As I talked about in my post on empowerment service, I come from a retail background.  Not only did I used to provide customer service, but I used to train people in service, and write policies which would promote the provision of good service. My skills are sharp, both in theory and practice.  But library customer service is different.  When I think about how I can be a better librarian, the bottom line is always the quality of my service to our patrons, and I think about how I need to adjust my theory and practice to the library environment.

 

I also think about self-preservation.

 

There are a lot of burned-out librarians in the world.  I’m sure a lot of the burn-out comes from being under-supported and overworked.  But I think a lot of it also comes from dealing with patrons.  Everybody deserves library service, including the unstable, the dangerous, the needy, the clingy, the grumpy, and the difficult.  That means librarians have to provide it.

 

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, and not succeeding.  The posts about librarian time management and empowerment service were failed attempts to write this post.  It’s tough for me to admit that there are patrons I just do not want to help.  Or patrons I’m frightened of, or repulsed by.

 

When I think about self-preservation, I think about how I can continue to provide good service to these types of people, on and on into the future.  I think about how I can help the people that I don’t like, and not let the experience sour me on patrons in general.

 

Ultimately it means adjusting the way I provide service.  For example, I normally provide at least my first name when I answer reference questions.  With the prisoner on death row, I did not sign the letter.  We were unable to provide what he had requested, and I, probably wrongly, imagined he might seek retaliation.

 

When I reflect, I am learning to factor self-preservation into my evaluation.  I want to continue to provide good service, and that means examining how my needs interfere with patron needs, and to determine if I am still…I don’t know the word…fair?  Professional?  Good at my job?

 

Prisoners by the National Library of Scotland

Passive Programs and Other Experiential Library Doings

In the books I loved to read as a kid, libraries are crazy old buildings full of secrets.  The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn sends Anthony Monday all over the library, following obscure clues to uncover something of great wealth.  I vividly remember the scene from Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario where Eugene Winkleman visits the Rochester Public Library and the children’s librarian tells him there is a secret room – which he must find for himself.

I think that it’s important that libraries find lots of different ways to interact with patrons.  Not only because our new post 2.0 world is participatory, but because it is important that libraries nurture discovery.  As I talked about here, the library allows us to conduct intellectual experiments.  The value of libraries is firmly rooted in self-directed learning and enjoyment.  To underscore that value, we need to keep patrons engaged, puzzled, and on their toes.**

Below is a round-up of a few of the passive programs and experiential stations I’ve set up in the past few months:

The Ball of String

 Started this size:
ball of string
And has grown to this size:

The Ball of String idea is lifted from AnyThink libraries.  AnyThink is doing some really innovative stuff!  They were a community where only 10% of people had library cards, and 63% were under 45 years old.  Part of their recipe for rejuvenating their relationship with the community was shifting to a more experiential model of library service.  There’s a good article about AnyThink here. I learned about their “experience zones” via Stacie Ledden in the ALATT FB group – one was simply a ball of string.

The Mystery Mystery

This was inspired by the “Blind Date with a Book” displays that were happening in libraries on Valentine’s day.  So far we’ve had five.  There is not currently a kid one, and the adult one has sat around for a while since we moved it off the main circ desk.  Our library uses Encore, and I tag the books in the catalog. 

Lucky Pick

After seeing the Mystery, Mystery, one of our 12 year old regular patrons had the idea to “take two books and package them together, and patrons don’t know which one they are getting.”  We have done 23 Lucky Picks.  Most of them were chosen by me, with the exception of the current ones, which were chosen by the patron and include picture books as well as chapter books (he chose one of the picture books because it was the first book he ever read at our library).  Circulation has also slowed down after moving them to the shelves from the circ desk.  At another branch in the system, the branch manager had the idea to wrap the lucky picks in some gift wrap she had.  Those seem to be moving quicker – everyone loves presents.

The Craft Station

One comment we recently received was the suggestion to “make an area for 8-12 year olds.”  The craft station provides more for this age to do in the library. We’ve gone through three crafts – a paper plate clover was up for a week, a paper plate Easter basket was up for two weeks, and a (non-paper plate) Garden craft just went up for April.  We now also have crayons and coloring sheets out on this station.  The coloring has been used, I’m not sure if the crafts have been done other than when the facilitator of one of our crafts programs didn’t show up.  The April craft may be more countable, as there is a place for the finished craft to be displayed in the library.

The Viewfinder Station

This is also less quantifiable.  I watched kids be amazed and delighted by the viewfinder, and some of them did write down what they saw on the sheet – “rockets” and “izrael.”

Type-spiration Station for Poetry Month

This will be up for April, so we’ll see how it went at the end of the month.  So far we’ve had one kid type away and then ask “hey, how do you print this out?”

Your Library Fortune

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Reader’s advisory, 3rd grade style.  Fortunes are:

  • You will read a mystery
  • You will read a book with a red cover
  • There will be a talking animal in the book
  • Call number 821
  • Librarian’s choice
  • Author’s first name will be Jane
  • The title of your book will start with S
  • Something historical or hysterical

Pope Shelf

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Books about the conclave, biographies of former popes, and the opportunity to make your own origami pope hat.

Book Crush
Book Crush
More 3rd grade style interaction. Are you a secret admirer of a book? Send it a valentine. Your crush responds on Facebook.

For example:

A sweet tale of requited love: Our director writes, “Dear Gone With the Wind, I’ve loved you since high school and will love you forever.” Our hearts are aflutter because Gone With the Wind has “always felt the same way!”

IMG_20130214_174009

Someone wrote “Dear Raskolnikov we are so alike ♥ Let’s go on a date?” Unfortunately, Crime and Punishment was on the holdshelf, so Raskolnikov is waiting for some one else.
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**Librarians might wish to think of patrons as cats, as depicted in this Monty Python Sketch.

The Digital Divide, Part 2 of 3: The Haves

Herein are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately in regards to libraries and computers and digital literacy.  Some of this series will probably be “late pass” territory, but I’m trying to sort out what’s on my mind, and what I’ve been reading and experiencing.

This is part two of three. You should read part one first.  You know, if you want to.

I read this opinion piece about The Philly Free Library not serving 21st century patrons.  The author has a lot of complaints which contain a kernel of truth, and a lot of misunderstanding.  For example:

In 2012, citizens want answers to their basic technology questions, not to be walked over to a book shelf to thumb through a 400-page book that is not even relevant because it was published in 2002; meanwhile, the patron’s 40 minutes of computer time ticks away at the library computer terminal.

A 400 page manual from 2002, no.  But a lot of people looking to improve their basic computer skills are more comfortable learning things via print, after all this is what they have done for the majority of their lives. This quote also illustrates an essential disconnect between providing reference (in which librarians are told to focus on instruction) and patron questions (in which a patron just wants an answer already). The author also says:

Instead of the library system hauling the majority of its materials across town from one branch to another, as is currently done (with gas at $4 per gallon), digitizing the library collection is eco-friendly, the wave of the future.

There are at least two problems with this, the first of course being a complete misunderstanding of the library’s ability to digitize it’s collection (in case you don’t know – 1. it would be illegal, due to that pesky little thing called copyright, to scan and make freely available most of a library’s collection.  Particularly a public library’s collection, which would not have a lot of older works that have passed into public domain. If you’re interested, look up the Google Book Search lawsuit to see what a morass this kind of thing is. And – 2. It takes a lot of time, money, fancy equipment, and staff time.  A LOT.  Really, really, a lot. Many libraries, being government funded, are running way under-staffed.  And of course have very tight budgets.  Even if we could legally do it, we couldn’t do it practically).

The second problem is these citizens who have the “basic technology questions” referred to in the first quote.  If a person doesn’t have the skills to use a mouse, how will they be able to use this digital collection?  Reducing access to a library’s physical books removes another basic life activity from people on the other side of the divide.

I think this article, with all it’s misunderstandings, does bring up some good points that many libraries struggle with:

  1. Outdated collections not only give patrons bad information, they really make libraries look like backwards institutions
  2. Libraries could do more to serve digital “haves,” they’d love access to a wider variety of software programs, better user interfaces (including mobile apps, etc.), and more digital content.
  3. Patrons really don’t understand what reference is.  We need to be better about providing service that satisfies both the patron’s question and the library’s mission to promote literacy skills.
  4. Patrons don’t understand what libraries and librarians do in general.  (At my last job, at a very special library, an employee from another department asked me “So what do you guys do here in the library?  Just kind of tidy up?”)
  5. Patrons view many of the restrictions placed on us (e.g. copyright, or limitations on ebooks) as our fault. These are seen as LIBRARY FAIL.

But the biggest misunderstanding in this article is misunderstanding what it means to be on the other side of the digital divide.  It’s not just “oh these people need someone to tell them once how to attach something to an email,” it’s that these people need comprehensive, intensive, and extensive HELP.  Maybe more than a library’s current staffing, materials, and infrastructure can provide.