Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Do Our Patrons Need Us to Be?

the winter landscape right now

I think there are changes afoot at the library where I work. I'm pretty low on the organizational totem pole, but I sense it in the air.

I have been thinking about what we should do if we are given a directive to become a fully modern academic library, and recently I realized I've had my head in the clouds. I've been thinking about possible changes from the perspective of a librarian instead of as a library patron. This is a kind of professional blindness. Any big changes should be informed by our patrons.

So I've been thinking about what patrons have told me they need since I started working as a librarian, either by approaching me directly or by their actions. Here is my list so far, in no order:
  • Tutoring. We've got this one covered -- a full half of the library's 3rd floor is devoted to the Tutoring Department.
  • Computers. We've got this one too, for the most part. While some of our hardware could use updating, the other half of the library's 3rd floor hosts a computer lab, and more work stations are scattered through the building. There is also free wireless for those who bring laptops or smart devices. I have a long list of technologies that students request besides computers (fax machine, color printing, blue-tooth enabled printer, etc.), but they tend to vary semester by semester.
  • Textbooks and required readings. I got to check this one off the list this past semester, and even though the textbook collection promises to be a major headache to maintain it's been very worthwhile.
  • Quiet spaces. Neutral, productive places to read or study. In case this supports the library-downgraded-to-study-hall model, there are plenty of places on campus to study that are not the library. Studying at the library implies a seriousness of intention, and for all the talk of supporting group work, many students are still trying to find elusive quiet.
  • In the past, a core part of a library involved books, so for those who come looking for them I don't think it's time to throw them out the window yet. Is a library truly a library without printed books?
  • Support for off-campus access. Quite often, after coming to the library and learning about books and journals, patrons want to know what they can get to from home and how.    
  • Real, in-person help. Even with silly things. Whether we like it or not, library staff are ambassadors for the college, and it's in our public service mission to assist with all manner of unusual situations. 
  • A collection of relevant resources. We should try to have whatever academic material our patrons are looking for, and be pro-active when we don't have it. Students should be able to expect that if an instructor makes a reference, recommends material, or shows something in class, the library has it. This may be the most difficult item on this list to achieve, because of the cost.
  • Access to other collections. The more sophisticated patrons expect us to be plugged into the larger library world, which we currently are with our county-wide agreement and our interlibrary loan service. If we don't have an item they need, we should know how to find and get it.
If anyone has more ideas, please feel free to contribute!


  1. It sounds like you're ready for the Strategic Planning Committee! What about offering group study spaces? I know our university has been pushing collaboration and a "global cooperative" approach to education. The students are huge fans of the study rooms and we always have a waiting line.

    I might also add patron-driven acquisitions models (which could help costs when it comes to building relevant collections) and tech hardware lending: projectors, headphones, cameras, etc. This has also been successful for us in the past and helps the library present itself as a "instigator" for information discovery and play.

    Great round-up of characteristics. Thanks!

  2. Thanks!

    Group study spaces should definitely be on the list.

    I'm mushing tech hardware into the general category of 'computers.'

    At the community college level I'm on the fence about patron-driven acquisitions models, but they would be worth exploring.