Meredith Farkas has a great post over at Information Wants To Be Free – It’s not just the OPACs that suck. I think Meredith hits the nail on the head when she writes: “It’s not just that our OPACs suck. The physical layout of our space sucks. I would guess if you did a survey of patrons, they would rather have a welcoming space and good materials than an OPAC that doesn’t suck.” I would add that welcoming and helpful staff is also essential. All of the recent talk about sucky OPACs on the part of librarians is certainly valid – and is a conversation that we need to have. But I agree with Meredith that our patrons probably don’t really care – and would be more impressed with inviting spaces. Until we offer a welcoming atmosphere to our patrons – in every respect including our staff, our physical layout and our online resources – we aren’t going to make people want to come to the library. It seems to me that everyone who talks about libraries has stories about unwelcoming and unhelpful staff, confusing signage and/or layout or overall bad experiences. Don’t you find this really troubling???? Fixing our OPACs, but not fixing our attitudes isn’t going to help us gain constituents. I am utterly amazed at the number of stories people have about library staff making them feel unwelcome. This needs to change.
Like Meredith, I will admit to not being a library user. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a library for a non-work related purpose. Part of this has to do with the fact that I can get whatever I need from the library where I work and part of this has to do with the fact that because I work in a library, I can honestly say that the last place I want to go when I am not at work is another library. Realistically, this means it is very hard for me to view libraries from a user standpoint. However, it stands to reason that a space in which we want people spend time and feel comfortable needs to be designed better – with the patron in mind. People linger in bookstores, browse their collections and return again and again. Libraries aren’t bookstores. Yet, we do compete with them in a way. After all, if people choose to buy every book they wanted to read, there would be no need for libraries. Meredith writes: “No matter how great our Web presence is, if we don’t create a space that people want to be in and that is conducive for the kind of browsing most people like to do, we will lose people.” Very well said!
I will also second Meredith recommendation of Walt Crawford’s Patrons and the Library article in January 2007’s issue of Cites and Insights. The article has a great summary of the problem and of the discussion surrounding the topic. Can I say how surprised I was to have a couple of my blogs posts quoted in the article??????? Wow!!!
Update: Mark Lindner from Off the Mark responds to Meredith’s post with some salient points that are well worth reading.