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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What People Want From Their Libraries

[ed note: I have been sitting on this for a while because I didn't have time to really look through it, but a few things in my professional life have made me focus on it, and I thought I would share my thoughts.]

To start the year, the PEW Internet and American Life Project published a comprehensive report entitled "Library Services in the Digital Age."

You can click here for the summary of findings.  That page also has a clickable table of contents in the right gutter to all 5 Parts of the report.  While I find the entire report useful, I want to specifically highlight Part 4: What People Want From Their Libraries.

This is the main issue I struggle with every single day.  What do people know they want from us versus what they would like but don't even know they could get. And how do I decide what services and programs are most important to devote time and money to based on what people want and need?

Thankfully, this is where PEW began Part 4.  They asked people how much they knew about what their library already offers, and then they moved into questioning what people think is most important for the library to offer.

More simply stated: Do you know what we already have? And, what should we have?

These are difficult issues for the average public service librarian to get a big picture handle on.  It is hard for library workers to think like a patron.  We are at the library every day.  We know each and every service the library offers.  We know who to ask or where to find the answer. We are too close to the situation and know too much.

However, the average people coming into the library, in the very best case, knows which area of the library to begin their visit with based on their current needs, but in reality, most have no idea where to go, or what they need. All they know is that the library should be able to help.

Studies like this remind us of what people think about us.  Looking at ourselves from outside our insular world can only help us to better tailor our services to our patrons. Too many of my colleagues just keep plugging along, thinking that since their circulation statistics keep going up that they are doing a great job and don't need to improve.  One of my goals with this blog and my consulting is to help stop this mentality.

There is always room for change and improvement.  There are always people in our communities who we are not reaching.  And, there are always better ways (more efficient, more interesting, more dynamic) we can be serving our patrons.

Take a look at what the study says and compare it to your services. I hope it inspires you.  It should not overwhelm you.

On a final note, I was happy to see here that no matter what you hear in the media, the Library is still about books because 80% of Americans think that it is VERY IMPORTANT for libraries to provide books for people to borrow.

No matter how much things change, people still want a good book.  Thankfully, those of us who help them to find their next good read, aren't going anywhere.

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