Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Work Like a Patron Day? Which Patrons?

LizB: Posts such as Work Like a Patron Day bring out Devil's Advocate in me.
To start with, I do like the idea that we should look at our library with not just fresh eyes, but the eyes of our public, both old and new patrons, and customers of all ages. So making sure signage is accurate, facilities and equipment are clean, places are inviting and well kept? All good. Wondering, "if I were new here and wanted to do x"...

But, I'm leery of certain things. I don't think we can be, or should be, every thing for every person. And all too often, I think we as professionals are all too quick to second guess our fellow professionals to point out how they are doing it wrong.

For example, part of the original post was that "it was hard to concentrate with people walking
and talking around us." Which brought out a huge sigh. Because not a day goes by that there isn't a "silly patrons, asking for quiet! We aren't shushers anymore"post in the library blogosphere or listservs.

Does it take a Work Like a Patron Day for us to acknowledge that yes, some of our customers want quiet, even tho they tell us that every day?

And see -- that is some of our customers. To the person who did the original post, people are walking and talking. To the teen librarian, perhaps, they saw a bunch of kids at a computer enjoying playing games and talking to each other and thought "yes! this is not your grandma's library." To the reference librarian, they saw members of their bookclub chatting about next month's title and where to find discussion questions.

My question is, when we Work Like a Patron -- what patron do we work like?

Sophie: That's an important question -- what patron, indeed! Since libraries are open to every member of a given community, "patron" means many individuals representing many demographics. What you say about what "patron" means to different members of staff is actually a good way to look at it -- if every member of staff chooses a particular patron group to emulate on Work Like A Patron Day, then a given library should have a pretty decent picture of what different people are hoping to get out of their library experiences.

I think it would be a mistake to craft new rules around the observations gleaned from WLAPD, though: I'd rather see libraries using those observations as a way to open a conversation between library and community about what is expected, and what is possible, given the library's budget, staffing, hours, and space. I'd also like to see libraries use those WLAPD observations to implement small changes that would improve the overall atmosphere of the library. After working for a day at stations where keyboards aren't functioning properly and screens are all smudged up, I bet the in-charge-of-computer library staff would add "clean computer screens" to their daily routine and would ask the IT folks to fix or replace the keyboard. That's not rules, that's making the library as functional & clean as Kinko's, where their patrons might also be doing some computing.

Ditto the business of shushing/not shushing. I think many libraries are so into making internet-accessible computers available to the public that they aren't thinking as much as they could be about the realities of libraries as mixed-use public spaces. As you say, depending on the time of day and day of the week, the library is serving many functions to many different demographic groups, from quiet-seeking scholars to rambunctious families spilling giddily forth from storytime. I think the person Michael quotes in the entry you link to is really asking us to look at how & if we're offering spaces that are well-suited to the needs of our communities, rather than asking our communities to make do with the spaces we offer them.

LizB: "The needs of our communities" versus "the spaces we offer" really strikes a chord with me. My idea: the physical library would be something that did offer something for everyone. It would think about things like noise flow, so that children's storytimes and teens after school would not be a bother to patrons who need quiet. After reading the initial post, I also wonder about multiple internet rooms: one with enough space for 2 or 3 to work on a computer (be it games or projects) and one that is a quiet study computer room. Meeting rooms, information center, my dream list would go on and on and on, with, truth be told, the traditional library (books and other traditional resources) being a part of a larger community center complex, with professionals besides librarians being part of the center.

But, right now, especially with the current financial outlook, I don't see brave new libraries happening anytime soon. I think we are all going to have to "make do" with the spaces we have. Plus, I think we need to really think hard about what the mission of the library is: is it to have meeting space for business people, for example? Where is that funding coming from? What is going to be cut back to make that happen?

The sad thing is, sometimes? The staff computers are just as bad, broken, and filthy as what the public uses.

"Making do" doesn't have to mean "put up with it." Making do can mean having the meeting room program-free for certain days and times, so that people can have quieter spaces, or having quiet times in computer labs. And, I think, it means being honest with both ourselves and our customers that we cannot be all things to all people. How can we engage in that dialogue in a productive manner - meaning, it's much than saying "no, we cannot do it."

Sophie: Oh, I agree -- "making do" is making lemonade out of lemons, not saying, "well, we're budgetarily screwed, so, sorry, folks! You're SOL, too!"

This fits in well with what we wrote about in our book (warning! shameless plug for Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect With Your Whole Community, available for purchase now!) about the importance of library services being specific to a given community, and being engaged in ongoing conversations with their communities. Just as we need to take a look at what pop cultural trends are speaking to our communities, so we need to look carefully at what usage needs are now, and how they may be changing. Maybe Community A sees a spike in homeless usage of the library and its bathrooms because local shelters are crammed, while Community B sees their computer usage going through the roof because once-spendy community members aren't replacing outmoded home computers because their budget can't stretch to afford it, and then Community C finds that its patrons want more fiscal health programming.

I think what Brian Herzog is getting at in his original post is that libraries are never done. Our policies are (or should be) always evolving, because the communities we exist to serve are changing, too. We're not going to please all of the people, all of the time, and that's hard to swallow, because as a profession, we like to meet our communities' needs. But by speaking honestly and working collaboratively with our community members, we can serve most of the people really well nearly all of the time. And that's what we should really be shooting for.

LizB: Absolutely! I can get behind that. I just hope that people see "work like a patron" day as a way to be constructive, with both the good and the bad, as well as figuring out who your partrons are and what they want and need; and that it's not turned into a "you're doing it wrong" day.

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  • At 11:35 AM, Blogger Jeff Scott said…

    I interpreted the post as an examination of services/ease of use. It doesn't cost anything to make things easier. Some libraries need to recognize their services are crappy. It may not cost anything to fix. I didn't get the idea that noise was a factor in the Work Like a Patron Day post. It was simple, clean bathrooms, clean computers, friendly staff. I think you are making it more complicated.

  • At 3:45 AM, Blogger the zak said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 7:07 AM, Blogger Andi said…

    If it is Admin/Leadership/Decision Makers Work Like a Patron Day, great!

    Staff do provide feedback of what they see, experience, what's working, what's not, etc but if they are not in the position to influence or enact change or they face barriers to change, then this becomes an exercise in uselessness.


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