In-house usage of a library item is a use of that library item. It is equivalent to a check out even though we cannot capture it in our circulation statistics. More importantly, the person using that item is an equal patron to someone who checks it out and takes it home. I see way too many library workers who think that someone who uses an item in their buildings is a lower level of patron than someone who takes the item home. This way of thinking needs to stop-- IMMEDIATELY.
Many of the reasons people use our collections in-house only are socioeconomically based. It is part of the larger problem of equal access for all in this country in general. So common reasons are homelessness and where I used to work, undocumented immigrants. I always reminded people without legal status who used the library that we don’t check your immigration status nor do we care. But since we don’t check it, we cannot give any information to the authorities either. All we check is that you live in our community. In fact, in order to get more cards in our citizens' hands we started automatically signing kids up at back to school events. Then the whole family could use the card.
But there are also times when someone who has a card may not want to check out and item and bring it home. The example someone gave me right when I started as a librarian was perfect. What if you were in an abusive marriage and you wanted to look up information about getting a divorce? You couldn’t use the home computer nor would you want to check out books on your card or bring them home.
And of course, questioning teens, and I don’t just mean LGBTQ issues only. Many teens don’t feel safe to express themselves or pursue their interests in their homes for a variety of reasons. The library is a safe space and a haven for these kids.
These examples are just tips of the iceberg. Her are some thoughts on how these in-house usage situations may manifest themselves to you, the library worker.
Have you ever been in the stacks and seen a book with a bookmark sticking out? Your first thought is to pull it out, right? But, what if that bookmark is from someone using the item in-house who doesn’t want to lose his place? True story-- if you pull the bookmark out because it doesn’t belong there, well, just you wait because that same book is going to go missing next. Often it will be purposely mis-shelved or tucked in a corner so that patron knows where it is. In the meantime, it is lost to everyone. So just leave the bookmark in. How hard is that? You are not going to explode because of it. Plus you are probably helping someone with much larger issues have something go right in their life.
We need to get over ourselves and let people use the collections in house. Encourage it even. If that means there are some bookmarks sticking out of our books, so what? As long as the materials are on the shelf and those who need and/or want them can access them, then as I see it, everyone wins!
We also had a few people who came to use the computers to watch DVDs. They didn’t check the DVDs out while they were using them in the library, but they would let the desk staff know they had it in case someone was looking for the item while they were using it.
Oh, and if someone comes in and wants to check a movie out while someone is using it on a computer in-house, the person with the library card DOES NOT take precedence over the person currently using it in-house. I have seen that happen at libraries and it makes me very angry. Those with cards DO NOT come before those without, despite what your boss might have told you. Our materials are for everyone.
Now collecting data on in-house usage is not easy, but I have a few ideas that help, are participatory, and fun:
- The Awesome Box-- Not my idea. It’s from Harvard. Here is a link to more information, but basically, you put out a box and have patrons put things they think are “Awesome” in the box. The item doesn’t have to have been checked out to go in the box. You can get your patrons to tell you what they like most about your collections this way-- with or without a library card.
- Patron Filled Displays, or as I like to tell people to explain them to their not convinced bosses-- “Makerspace" Displays. They are exactly like they sound. Put up an empty display shelf, give it a title, and ask patrons to fill it using your circulating collection. Now, your tech services people may fein a heart attack because the books aren’t where they are supposed to be, but again, no one is going to die. They are just books people. [On a side note, the number of times I had to say this to coworkers at my library was surprisingly high.] If everyone knows this makerspace display is happening, and then someone can’t find an item where it is supposed to be, they can....gasp...check the display. I know, it’s tough putting the patron first. *Becky shakes her head*
Here are some less “radical” ways to to see what people are using but not checking out:
- Where are your messiest, most out of order shelves? Those areas are probably being used in house. The patrons will use the books and put them back themselves. Also, since pages aren’t necessarily going there to put these materials away [because they weren’t checked out], the shelves get even messier.
- What materials do you find on tables, abandoned in strange places, with some kind of non-library marking on it, etc....? Those are being used in-house. People are hiding them and/or marking them so they can find them again-- without using traditional methods.
- Put out huge, clearly marked comment boxes which ask people to tell you what kinds of items they want to see in the collection.
This post is obviously just an overview of the entire in-house usage issue, but my goal with these Call to Action posts is to alert you to concerns that people either simply aren’t aware of or have become complacent about. I hope everyone reading this will at least be more compassionate about and cognizant of in-house usage
Please share your in-house usage stories, ideas, and successes in the comments.