I tried to publish this yesterday and for some reason it didn’t work (I’m inclined to blame this rubbish work computer.) So let’s try again…
Working in a school and now a school library what to call the people I work alongside has never been an issue. Me teacher. You student. For those who have never worked in a school before, it doesn’t matter whether you are in fact a teacher; adult in school = teacher for the majority of our pupils. So what to call the users of our school library has never been in question for me, they are students.
However, this morning I read this article http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/03/customers-or-patrons-how-you-look-at-your-librarys-users-affects-customer-service/ which discusses the way in which libraries refer to their clientele and the possible implications of that. The options discussed are: Patron, Customer, User, Student or Member.
Firstly I’d like to discuss the two I would definitely never consider using: Patron and Customer. To me a patron is linked too strongly to bars and pubs; I picture a patron leaning on a bar and setting the world to rights, not reading or researching. Similarly, a Customer to me is someone who makes a purchase. Libraries do provide a service that is certain, but since it is free I feel that Customer is not an appropriate word.
User. User, user, user. I suppose, at the heart of it, people who come into libraries are Users. They use the facilities and they use our expertise as information professionals. Users. However, there are too many negative connotations to this word for me to want to use it to describe the people who come into a library. A User to me is someone who takes and gives nothing back and I definitely feel that people who frequent libraries of any kind do give back. The contribution may not be tangible, in that they may not pay for our services; but simply by coming into a library, borrowing a book, using a computer or whatever, they are contributing to keeping that library open. Without people, a library would cease to exist and none of us would have jobs. Users? Not so much. To quote Karen Pundsack in the above article ‘The public is essential to libraries just as libraries are essential to the public.’ This certainly doesn’t tie in with a User in my opinion.
So that leaves Student or Member. Well, in a school, the term student is obvious and the one that I use to describe our visitors. Would public library users like to be described as students though? Possibly it may increase the sense of importance that a library has, particularly in these days of libraries being places where you get your binbags and bus passes. However, would my 88 year old Nanna like to be described as a Student when she goes to borrow a Catherine Cookson? Probably not.
I like the idea of referring to our visitors as Members, the very word sounds welcoming to me. A member is someone important, someone who counts towards something in an organisation. They have chosen to invest themselves in the library and even carry a membership card. I remember how proud I was of my first library card, it actually made me feel quite adult and responsible and there is a connotation of responsibility in being a member of something.
So this has made me think: Should our Students be referred to as Members in our school library? Would that lead them to having more respect? Leaving the shelves in a tidier state at the end of lunchtime? Being less inclined to leave chewing gum on the floor? Have I, without even realising it, been minimalising our students’ contribution to the library by the very fact of calling them Students?
I suppose the question of what to call your visitors will depend on the exact kind of library but it has certainly given me much to think about!