Terminology for Library Peeps – A TTW Guest Post by Valarie Kingsland

Since beginning SLIS classes, I’ve become curious about the labels librarians use for people who use the library or its services.  When the issue came up again this semester, I set up an informal poll to get some feedback.  I appreciate everyone who shared it, voted and left comments!  You may view it online, but here is a summary of the results.

It would have been ideal to ask people using libraries as @infointuitive suggested, rather than library students and professionals, but I didn’t have access to that kind of audience.  So I decided to include background information in the poll to get an idea of who took the poll, even though it meant shortening the options and allowing voters to choose more than one answer.  As of December 11st, 494 votes were cast from unique IP addresses.

What should we call people who go to the library and/or take advantage of library services?  (494 voters)

customers 70 votes 11 %*
members 39 votes 6 %
patrons 312 votes 49 %
users 166 votes 26 %
visitors 32 votes 5 %
other (please leave a comment) 13 votes 2 %

above percentages calculated with total: 

I go to the library and/or take advantage of library services. 147 votes 30 %
I work in a library/information institution. 280 votes 57 %
I am a library/information student. 65 vote 13 %

above percentages calculated with total: 



*Percentages are rounded.

The 51 comments included these terms:  Client, informed, learner, community, shareholder, student, friends, faculty, elders, specific grade levels (i.e. 5th grader, freshman)  guest, people, specific target audience (i.e. graduate students, legal researchers, consultants), readers, and researchers.

I appreciated the comments that reflected that the labels we use are contextual.  Terminology we use may depend on; the institutional or community tradition; the type of library we are in; to whom we are speaking, both inside and outside our institutions; specific library activities and services; and how we intend to relate to the individuals and identifiable groups in our community.

Does It Matter?  Yes, it’s an old conversation with no clear solution for all, but my concern centers on what the label used means to our communities and less with what it means to librarians because labels are powerful.  Ultimately, I don’t want to exclude anyone because they don’t identify with the terminology I am using.  So, I will take my cue from others in the field and choose my terminology according to the context while keeping in mind who I am talking to and who I am talking about.

Yes, you can still weigh in…and, no, I won’t call them peeps.  *smile*

Thank You!




Digitalist:  What do you call the people who use your library?  (2010) www.digitalist.info/2010/11/26/what-do-you-call-the-people-who-use-your-library/

Hack Library School:  The Name Game  (2011)  http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/the-name-game/

Jack’s:  Let’s Reconsider Our “Users” http://jacks.tumblr.com/post/33785796042/lets-reconsider-our-users

Library Hat:  What Do Libraries Call Users, and What Do Library Users Think of Themselves in relation to Libraries?  (2012)  http://www.bohyunkim.net/blog/archives/1885

Library Journal Back Talk: Patron or Customer (and why)?  (2007) http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6457205.html

On My Mind: Library Patrons, Customers, Users, Oh My: What We Call “Patrons” is Important.  (2012)  The Information Activist Librarian:  http://informationactivist.com/2012/10/10/on-my-mind-library-patrons-customers-users-oh-my-what-we-call-patrons-is-important/

Stephens Lighthouse:  What to Call Library User Communities  (2008) http://stephenslighthouse.com/2008/07/26/what-to-call-library-user-communities/

Sullivan Free Library’s Blog:  What do you call people who use the library?  (2010) http://sullivanfreelibrary.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/what-do-you-call-people-who-use-the-library/


ValarieProfileValarie Kingsland is a Circle of Learning scholar at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science and lives in Seward, Alaska.  She believes in the transformative power of libraries and their contribution to community development.  Valarie’s interests include emerging technology, information literacies, participatory services, the integration of Libraries, Archives and Museums, and Indigenous information institutions.  You may join her on twitter at @valarie907.