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.”