by Robyn Hagle
Shortly after the Seattle Public Library opened, I conducted surveys of public library patrons for credit. I needed the credits for my MLIS and the act of interviewing library patrons met one of the requirements of the MLIS portfolio. The survey results were later published in an article Seattle public library as place: Nonparametric analyses of community perceptions and attitudes. Now, 7 years later, I’m reflecting on the idea of library as place. This in the midst of a renovation that has separated our librarians from the main collection of books by over 30 floors (and a separate elevator bank) and temporarily eliminated a central place for our patrons to visit for assistance.
Why am I comparing a big public library to a small (in comparison) private law firm library? Stick with me. From the time I entered this profession (law firm librarianship, specifically), I was aware of the need to think of, and more importantly market, the library as a service. This was vastly different than the training and philosophies imparted during library school and I graduated within the last 6 years. I’ve worried very little about discarding print resources, I’ve never met the majority of our most demanding patrons in person and I’ve become really comfortable explaining complex concepts in email. And so it came as a comfort and validation when my manager forwarded this link to a presentation by a law firm partner turned library partner at another big firm. One of his main messages was the importance of marketing your library as a service (he even goes as far as to encourage librarians to earn gold stars from firm management by giving away unused library space).
You make the library a service by talking to your patrons, surveying their needs and meeting those needs with appropriate services and resources. It’s not all that different than talking to your patrons about the library as a place and how you can make it more accessible, except the conversation might take place over the phone with someone you’ve never met in an office 3,000 miles away instead of between stacks of books. In this age of shrinking space and increasing electronic access, it may seem scary to find yourself without a physical place called the library, but I’m confident we have the service orientation, the creativity and the expertise to reframe what we do. The library as a service. Chant it with me!