don't you feel used?

Here’s another conversation about libraries I didn’t mean to get myself in. This time it was with a woman that was an avid library user growing up. While growing up, she confessed, going to the library with her mom was the highlight of her weekend. She’d get books and movies and loved the librarians. This habit continued into adulthood where she developed friendly relationships with librarians at a Boston Public Library branch. “They’d even drop off items my stoop on their way home,” she said. Nice.

Flash forward a few years. She asks about what kind of stuff I do as a librarian. I mention reference work and she gets a puzzled look on her face. “Wait a minute. People can ask random questions at the library?” “Yeah, anything, really,” I replied. Her jaw dropped and she asked, “Don’t you feel used?”.

Keeping OCLC’s Perceptions of Libraries and Information Sources report in mind, I shouldn’t have been so surprised that even this active library user had no concept of the library as a place for information. There’s a disconnect between how most libraries see themselves and how others see libraries. Clearly this is only one anecdote but if we extrapolate a bit it is another indication that we have serious public relations and image issues.

With no cajoling from me, at the end of the conversation she was excited to visit her local Multnomah County Library branch to use her “own private search engine.

11 thoughts on “don't you feel used?”

  1. Every time someone asks about why we need to promote reference or why I’m interested in “stunts” like Slam the Boards, I’m going to just e-mail them the link to this page. Thanks!

  2. When I started working as a librarian, my best friend was absolutely flabbergasted that you could just call a library, ask them a question and get an answer. He must have asked me to confirm it at least half a dozen times. I thought it was just him, but other librarians have related similar conversations.

  3. Great story. I’ve spent a lifetime educating my family and friends about this very same subject. Finally, most of them have finally gotten the message. However, regardless of where they live, they call ME. Believe me, I’m OK with that. I do not mind being their personal librarian for life. When I do bibliographic instruction, I take my business cards and tell the students that if they take one, they may consider me their “personal librarian.” Whatever it takes!

  4. On the other side of this story, a few years back, my brother, his wife, their daughter and her boyfriend were speeding down I-95, through Boston, arguing about a poem. Either they couldn’t remember the author, or the next line, or the meaning of it. From the far left lane, my niece spotted a library sign at the upcoming exit. “Dad,” she yelled. “Look, a library.” My brother veered across four lanes of traffic to get to the exit, causing cars to swerve and screech all around him. They went in, asked their question, got their answer and proceeded on their way. The boyfriend, however, did not stick around much longer.

  5. My mom was shocked when I told her that people call the reference desk all the time to have us look up phone numbers.

    “Why don’t they call 411?”
    “Because the library is free!”
    “So they can call and just ask anything?”
    “Yep, pretty much.”

    Of course the key here is in the level of customer service that the staff at a library provides. At my library we are happy to answer questions like this. After all it’s job security! My mom points out that she could never ask questions like this at her library. According to her, the staff at her library don’t want to answer questions. They act irritated when she asks for help looking for items.

    If libraries want to stay relevant, one of the key factors is going to be in providing superior customer service! Because if we don’t someone else will.

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