Meet People Where They Are—Not Where We Want Them to Be
Libraries are very good at organizing and presenting content in anticipation of users’ needs. From cataloging resources to creating booklists, to offering workshops and classes, we’re all about meeting people where we think they may be. The trouble is, not all individuals fit into our elaborate schema.
It’s difficult to genuinely meet people where they are. It’s far easier to set up a system that we think might help most users—and a whole lot cheaper. Meeting people where they are can take a serious commitment of staff time.
In the past decade, libraries have experimented with creating alternatives to their “build it and they will come” paradigm. Teen librarians, working with teen advisory groups, have encouraged their users to help determine teen programs and services. Letting the public have a role in ordering materials is one way to open a library’s collection to its readers. Book-a-librarian programs allow us to focus on our users’ needs in more depth than is possible at a reference desk.
For several years, my library provided drop-in e-reader help. But in the past 12 months, interest in e-readers has taken a nosedive, so we expanded the program to offer help for other types of devices. The response has been enthusiastic: the public has hauled in cameras, phones, laptops, and iPads. No amount of handouts, FAQs on our Web site, and classes could begin to address the variety of questions we have received, and few programs have generated gratitude.
Technology isn’t something we offer, it’s something we do, and helping people understand how to use their technology is perfectly in line with what libraries do best: respond to people’s needs.
There is a new attempt to break out of the echo chamber and share the many different sides of library activities and the positive effects they have on the communities they serve. The goal of The Library Effect is to share stories about the many facets of library activities — and their outcomes — with a general audience. Good luck to Shannon K. McDonough (@shnmcd) with this fine initiative.
We installed a public whiteboard and use it to post questions. It is a forum for the public to share their thoughts and ideas. Here is a video of an artist using the wall to create and interesting piece of work.
“Honestly, I simply wanted to manage a library the way I had always wished I had been managed,” says Hill, with a laugh, when asked to describe her management style. “Coming up in this field, you get so tired of hearing ‘No,’ or ‘Let me tell you why that is not going to work,’ or ‘We tried that years ago; it didn’t work.’ ”
I know it’s trendy to fight the system and cry that we are all becoming slaves of technology, but this attitude overlooks that computers and phones are tools for communicating. When someone thinks I’m an idiot smiling at a machine, I’m actually smiling at my girlfriend who is 10000 miles away and whom I would have never met if not for these newfangled electronics. As they say: when the wise man points to the moon, the fool looks at the finger.
The winner of the #YLibrary of the Future Writing Competition is Sophie Manion. Sophie will receive an iPad mini. Congratulations Sophie!
Here is her winning entry:
I want to hear the voices of a million lives. I want to brush their hearts with the tips of my fingers and feel as they feel, with their skin and their lungs and their ears. It takes a moment – a light on a screen, a battery cord plugged in – but then I can. In a moment I am timeless. The library is a passport to worlds that exist only in the mind. I am lost amongst these places with my greatest friends, my most treasured heroes. Words can transport me. I can listen or I can read but I will always experience. It doesn’t matter whether I can touch the ink, smell the fresh pages or instead, scroll down the electronic page with a gesture of my hand. The future is a grand place but it is those words, the magic that I can only find in a library, that can teleport me away to somewhere I’ve never been. Whether I walk through those open doors from my computer, or on my phone, or physically – I will always find a new world waiting in that maze of books. There are some things that will never change.