Don’t Fear the Library
11/11/2011 4 Comments
In a recent post on Tame The Web, Carrie Straka shares an experience in which a patron offered that she was intimidated by the library. Carrie assured the patron that libraries are nothing to be afraid of and sent her on her way with the book she wanted. It later occurred to her:
That was the wrong response. I should have asked her “How can we make the library less intimidating?” I could have gained a lot of insight had I just thought to ask that question.
We’ve all had some experience with this notion of library intimidation. In fact, I suspect there was a time in most of our lives that we, too, felt intimidated by at least some element of a public or school library. And why not? A new hire on her first day at the office, a new student on his first day at school, a young immigrant whose heard she can get ESL assistance at the library. They walk in the door, see many other people engaged in myriad activities, and really don’t know what to do first. I’ve been there many times–the guy with the question mark above his head.
Kathy Gould, director of the Palos Verdes Library District, wrote about a conversation she had with a community member who cited issues of usability and inattention among her reasons for avoiding the library.
She wasn’t talking about a generally unwelcoming environment, or unfriendly staff. She was talking about a set of systems and service models that discourage her from even trying to use our services.
With minimal instruction, much of this intimidation can be alleviated. Navigating the computer catalog, searching through call numbers, and downloading digital materials are easily attainable skills. Questions about who is a librarian and other roles can be addressed in any number of ways that may help alleviate trepidation among new library patrons. As for inattentive staff, well, that’s a can of worms for another day.
What are your experiences with intimidating libraries? In what ways are libraries intimidating and how are these matters resolved? These are issues that should be addressed before the patron walks in the door. How do we ensure that our welcoming nature is among the motivations for people to become regular library users?