The OPAC Isn’t The Only Problem

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.


3 Responses to The OPAC Isn’t The Only Problem

  1. A. Don’t be surprised. You show up in later essays/chapters (depending on how this project goes) as well…

    B. Maybe I’ve been lucky. I find the Mountain View, Redwood City, and Palo Alto public libraries all to be welcoming places with patron-oriented staff. I don’t visit MVPL often enough, but not because it’s not a good place to spend time. And, of course, all three libraries have very solid usage statistics and lots of people around whenever I visit. People browsing in the stacks. People reading in comfy chairs. People using the array of computers. Young people using the teen space. Even younger people, with parents, using the childrens’ space. I couldn’t agree more that libraries should be welcoming spaces…and lots of them are.

    Of course, I don’t work in a library, and there’s really no library at work…

  2. […] of being a librarian but not liking to use their local public libraries. Meredith, Nicole, and Jennifer all point out that while we’ve been merrily complaining away about the state of the catalog, […]

  3. […] that her local librarians “were not very approachable, knowledgeable, or friendly.” Jennifer Macaulay , “admits” that she’s not a library user either (and how many of us would […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: