It's Your Library, Too: On Being a Valued Library Customer

remote office, originally uploaded by suttonhoo.

I’m sure Chris Brogan is a perfectly nice guy.

I don’t know him personally, but his reputation and influence speak for themselves. He really knows his stuff, and it’s because he’s so well-informed and respected that one of his recent blog posts brought out the Librarian Avenger side of me.

In the post, Brogan extols the virtues of using a bookstore as a remote workplace. While the reasons he gave were all solid ones, I’ll argue that if you replace the word “bookstore” with the word “library”, you’ll find that most if not all of the virtues he writes about are available at your local library. David Lee King went through the same exercise and reached the same conclusion.

Even better, your local library will let you carry on these activities without trying to sell you anything, and you won’t have to worry about running your business while consuming another company’s resources, something that if you tried in some commercial spaces, would run you afoul of management pretty quickly.

I groused publicly about Brogan’s post on Twitter which led to a conversation about customer service expectations in libraries and whether libraries are work-friendly spaces for the public. My dear friend Michelle Jones shared an experience she had while visiting a library branch in Louisville, KY. While her experience was valid and deserved to be heard, I tried to reinforce that her experience was one out of many, and that it shouldn’t be used as evidence of the prevailing experience people have when using the library as a remote office.

Libraries are not spaces that were designed only for children and parents. I’d almost wager a guess that the ROI (in the form of tax dollars paid) for library use for child-free adults is much lower than it is for parents. We (probably) pay more taxes, but yet for some reason we don’t feel as if the library is a space that we can claim as our own.

I’m here to tell you that you can.

Libraries are public spaces that are open and accessible to all; children, parents, students, seniors, and adults. We exist to serve the whole public, and as a member of the public, if you feel that your customer/public service expectations are not being met, express your concerns to library management. If you don’t feel management is reacting fast enough to the changes you’d like to see, then escalate your wishes to the library board of directors, or to the municipal (or state) government that provides funding for your local library. I doubt that you’ll have to go that far, but in the interest of not coming off as an apologist for dismal library services, it is important for me to tell people what avenues are available to them.

I won’t try to deny that many of us folks of a certain age have all had the experience of being shushed in a library or being intimidated by the officious librarian who was more interested in protecting books than crafting positive customer service experiences. The good news is that more and more of those people are dying off “aging out of the profession”, and there is a crop of librarians and library workers who have different ideas and are ready to take their place as library leaders and managers. We have our own ideas about what things work and what things don’t, but as customer-centered librarians, we welcome and value input from the public. You help us get better, but if we don’t hear from you, our chances for creating the change you seek is greatly reduced.

It’s your library too. Own it.