Sunday, April 01, 2007

That first impression

The saying, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" is held even truer for libraries. I don't know if some people already come in with a feeling that they don't want to use the library or expect that it won't have what they want. We seem to need blow them away before they give us a first chance, let alone a second. I know that our library made the most dramatic increase in general usage when we renovated the library and doubled the computer capacity and had brand new sleek looking dells.

Too many people for too long saw the library as dirty, with slow clunky computers, and only bums there to greet you. Furthermore, the collection was in shambles. We were in a dos based catalog system that was difficult to use, it wasn't web-based, and no collection development reports were EVER run.

We removed the distractions that were immediate deterrents to library use. We upgraded our catalog, upgraded the computers, renovated the building. However, no matter how many changes we made, it still boils down to every reader his/her book. If they can't find their book, the most important book in the whole world, then this library is not for them.

Two cases in point. A high school student comes in for a particular book assigned by her class. We should have materials that meet every interest. She doesn't find the book. Well the we are just crap. How dare we call ourselves a library when you don't have the most important book in the world? We should be reported to the Library of Congress! She ended up doing something better, she blogged about it. It was a two part blog post, OUCH! The worst part was that she was a reader and would have probably been a die-hard patron, but we weren't the library for her.

Another one is with library donations. When a patron donates their prized possessions to the library, their books, they expect us to fall over in amazement. "Wonderful, this is just the book I have been looking for, the 1931 complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica! How did you know?" Its sad since these people have the best intentions. They would rather donate their mold covered attic-imprisoned books to the library rather than throw them away. Its either they can't bear to throw a book out, or they think we are so poor we would take it. Again, every book his/her reader. When they donate their book and we don't need it, it affects patrons deeply.

Lastly, a patron comes in looking for an audio version of the bible. This item has been a long standing for our library because not all vendors have the entire bible, and if they do, its a mess to process and catalog. We have received many complaints before about not having one. We finally were able to order it. However, when this woman wanted it, we only had one copy of the NIV New Testament, but an entire copy of the King James version. It turns out she was in the middle of reading the King James version and it was exactly what she was looking for...SCORE! That is when you look like a genius and the patron feels like this library is for them.

Collection development can be very much like a democracy. You order what the people want and they vote with their library card. To the patron who can't find their items it is much like living in a red state when you vote blue. It is isolating. It is like telling the patron your interests aren't welcome here. That is very tough to say when we offer so much to everyone else, just not for you.

However, that feeling seems too much dependant on that first impression. How can we get patrons to trust us and to use our many services? If the high school student had waited a moment, she would have found that she could have requested the library purchase the book, or request an Interlibrary loan. If that patron worked with our system, she could have helped build the collection that interested her. It would take some time, but it would have developed.

It seems that everyone expects to have exactly what they want NOW! A government funded library cannot keep up and patrons have to learn to become more patient. I don't know what the answer is, I just wish they would not be quite so angry we didn't have their book.

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