Skip to content

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).
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.

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