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What to call library user communities….

Library Journal is running a poll on their homepage this week. It’s interesting. I’ve been following research lately on what library users are called and what they want to be called.
Here’s the poll as of this morning (Saturday July 26).
members.png
It’s interesting since it doesn’t reflect what I’m reading and hearing (including some of Joan Fyre Wiliams research) in the actual polls of what our communities want to be called!
I’ve always hated the term ‘patrons’ for library communities. Museums have patrons; Michelangelo had a patron; Foundations have patrons; Patrons give hug sums of money. Everyone using a library isn’t a patron. (I also hate that it’s the root of patronize which has a weird double meaning.) It’s just an awful, patronizing word that delivers little value to us in positioning ourlseves for success with our communities. Since so many use it, it’ll probably take a 12 step program to get folks to stop this habit.
Client has been usurped by both the for fee consulting sector as well as other parts of the social service sector. Being a client of the penal system, foster care, social work case, etc. has a different meaning to being a client of a library and has different implications for service.
Customer is very business-oriented and feels like there is some ultimate monetary transaction will be involved. It feels very retail which isn’t negative but has a different context. A monetary positioning is not a great positioning for most types of libraries. Also, library communities tell us that they definitely don’t want to be called customers of libraries.
User just feels like it’s librarian jargon that doesn’t echo with our real communities. In the outside world it’s been co-opted by the drug addict environment – drug user. We’d love our users to be addicted but it’s a negative positioning. Also, I am uncomfortable with the concept of being ‘used’. It’s often negative to say “She used me.” It really doesn’t imply the benefits of library service well enough.
Reader is nice but limiting. Sometimes they’re readers, but we don’t really think of many of our services as merely reading – even if reading is a key skill for gaming, computer and web use. Books are great but libraries are so much more than all that. Also, libraries’ competitive advantage against other options is our people and reader just positions us in that limited ‘just books’ model. The OCLC research showed that too many people think we’re just book, books, books. We don’t need to reinforce a strong positioning already, we need to expand on it.
So ‘member’ reflects something that works for me (and the research with actual library end users). I’m surprised that this jargon isn’t entering our sphere quickly enough – habits are hard to break. This isn’t a scientific poll but it refects the language that I hear folks using and those words aren’t what our users want to hear. I like the way it implies an engagement with the library’s community. It’s great if people think of themselves as members of the library, with membership cards. Membership has it’s privileges (American Express calls their cardholders members). National Geographic calls their subscribers members. I like the concept of promoting memberships in your local library. It starts with a respect for the two-way social contract between libraries and their communities.
Of course, when you’re talking to city councils and municipal budget committees it’s OK to throw in the odd ‘voter’ or ‘taxpayer’ or ‘ratepayer’ (grin). You gotta be political sometimes.
I am assuming that this LJ survey response is pretty public library focused, but maybe not. I think student, learner, faculty, etc. work in schools and academia and colleague, co-worker, etc. work in special libraries.
Points card
Credit card
Debit card
Social Security card
Driver’s License card
Frequent Flyer card
ALA membership card
Library card
Library User card
Library Patron card
Library Customer card
Library Client card
Library Membership Card
I made a choice to join and I’m proud of it, and to be associated with others in my community.
Members, it works for me.
Stephen

Posted on: July 26, 2008, 10:12 am Category: Uncategorized

10 Responses

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  1. I have to agree with you on the way different terms for those-who-use-libraries feels or sounds. Most of them just don’t fit the bill. For you, ‘members’ is a good word. But I work in a private research library, where those-who-use-libraries are my colleagues. We tend to use the word ‘patron’ for lack of a better word. It isn’t the best choice, nor are the other choices. So what would we use to describe our colleagues – researchers – who utilize the services of their on-site library? This is a rhetorical question, I just really liked your discussion.

  2. A None said

    Member?
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=member
    Nah. I like “reader”.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=read
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I guess that works as long as you leave the closed captioning on the DVD’s and don’t offer CD-Rom or events.
    It is always amazing how ignorant the anonymous commenters are though and how quickly they can degrade the professional discussion by their merely waking up this morning.
    SA

  3. The objection to “user” (which I’ve seen elsewhere too) interests me. I wonder if it’s a US/elsewhere thing, or a librarian/other thing, because the (limited) research I’ve seen and done into… er, user preferences suggests that the users themselves prefer it to many other terms.
    [Very briefly: a study in a UK library (Brophy, P. (1993). What’s in a name? New Library World, 94(1108), 27-29) found “user” was the top term, closely followed by “borrower”; my study of New Zealand uni students (http://deborah.fitchett.googlepages.com/libraryjargon) found that preferred terms were “student”, “visitor” (possibly influenced by the form of my question), “user”, and then the various “patron”, “customer”, etc.]
    I’ve never seen “member” suggested as an alternative before. It has a definite appeal… except that we often deal with non-members too. So I still prefer “user” because that’s what they’re doing: they’re using the library resources. And because that’s the term they seem (though more research is needed) to prefer.

  4. While I do not mind the term “member”, I believe it to be a more passive term than “patron”. We call our library users patrons – and don’t think that it is “patronizing”!
    Googling both terms brings back similar definitions, but with slightly different connotations: Members are simply part of a whole, a passive element. Patrons are “supporters”, “champions”, and “regular customers”.
    It seems to me that the word “patron” implies an active use of the library; someone that uses, supports and champions the library should not be condescended to, but looked up to!
    Three cheers to all of our members and partons. :)

  5. Ross Holt said

    In my (public library) community, I would be concerned that “member” sends a message of exclusivity — people would assume that membership is something you have to pay your way into. You can become a “member” of the Friends of the Library… but by virtue of paying taxes (actually,just by existing), you already have a right to use the library. We use “patron” internally, but that’s a word that doesn’t resonate with the public at large. But I don’t have a better suggestion!
    As for library cards, the public universally understands “library card.” It’s self-explanatory and self-marketing — why change that one?

  6. edwina said

    Member doesn’t do it for me. Maybe that’s because I work at an Elementary schools. “My membership is bigger than your membership” :P
    Our Public Library switched from Patron to Borrower.
    Borrower is it for me.

  7. “Member” would be the last choice and not a good one to me. It gives people negative message — you have to either pay to join or have some qualifications to be included. Not inviting. We serve whoever walks into the door, member or non-member.
    “Customers” do not imply a fee base service to me. In the business world, we use the term “internal customer” when serving our colleagues and “external customer” for public. I don’t know why you feel the term involves monetary transaction. I am curious to know what kind of library communities told you that they are against using this term.
    “User” is a general term and I don’t feel it is a librarian Jargon. We use “users” for many things – Google users, Firefox users, computer users, and library users. Drug addict?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=
    I only hear librraians calling them users but maybe users call themselves this too. The many focus groups and surveys showed that library users preferred member but we’ve never been a particularly research driven profession.
    SA

  8. “Member” would be the last choice and not a good one to me. It gives people negative message — you have to either pay to join or have some qualifications to be included. Not inviting. We serve whoever walks into the door, member or non-member.
    “Customers” do not imply a fee base service to me. In the business world, we use the term “internal customer” when serving our colleagues and “external customer” for public. I don’t know why you feel the term involves monetary transaction. I am curious to know what kind of library communities told you that they are against using this term.
    “User” is a general term and I don’t feel it is a librarian Jargon. We use “users” for many things – Google users, Firefox users, computer users, and library users. Drug addict?

  9. Emily Odza said

    Patron seems respectful to me and doesn’t depend on whether they are a card carrying member of the library or not. However, I concede that only library staff use the word…. Is it true that the Canadian pronunciation is with a short a (which is how I say patronize)? In my region (California), I’ve only ever heard it pronounced with a long a. The word patronize can be used about a Starbucks without too much of a pejorative flavor to it, although I patronize Peets almost exclusively!
    One suggestion I have is that libraries could establish a kind of hierarchical membership system based on usage. Occasional usage without a card could be community-at-large member, frequent library user with a card could be community member, a star user who contributes to the library community in the way that BiblioCommons is supporting in their beta version of the catalog (assigning credits for participation) could be a star community member or any term that particular library supports. Many subscriptions have hierarchies to encourage greater support or greater participation. I like the idea of rewarding library users… Sorry, I got carried away.

  10. A None said

    The point that I wanted to make about “reader” and “to read” is that, to me, those words do not only imply the reading of written or print materials. After all, we read body language, minds, between the lines… In at least one other language, there is one word for “read” and “study”, and its meaning is broader than both. Reader also refers to a rank within a British university, which I find charming when used more generally. And does a reader in fine art or drama in a British university engage solely with the printed word in his or her research? I hope not!
    I think there is some analogy between the challenged meaning of the verb “to read” and the plight of the library to be recognized as a place that offers more than just books.
    One of the things I like most about those web polls is that rarely if ever are you the only person who votes for a particular candidate. I don’t think there is or can be one universally accepted/preferred term of reference, not even within an English speaking world. You talk of “our sphere” but I talk about “my sphere”.
    I’ll go back to sleep now.