Returning the Love
By Sarah Prielipp
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 09:30
Isn’t it about time for librarians to reciprocate?
The Australian Library and Information Association has renamed Valentine's Day, February 14, as Library Lover's Day.
Can’t you just see a group of librarians gathering around the proverbial water cooler each morning to profess their love for their patrons? “We love our patrons. Yes, we do. We love our patrons. How about you?”
Okay, maybe not, but the sentiment remains. Librarians love their patrons; it’s why we do everything we do. But do our patrons really know that our efforts to save libraries, to maintain (and increase) funding, and to reevaluate our role in society as a common good do not stem from a purely selfish desire to save our jobs and paychecks, but from honestly wanting to continue providing them with these services, programs, and classes?
Recent marketing campaigns show how libraries boost their community’s economy. You’ve seen banners on the web and in your email; maybe you’ve even put a return-on-investment calculator on your library’s website. For those who prefer numbers, such a tool is great: It quantifies the library as a viable, fiscally responsible, and valuable asset. But do hard figures really reach patrons who just need a little library love?
I propose a new marketing campaign for libraries: We Love Our Patrons! We already have campaigns for patrons to express their love of libraries and librarians, yet how often do we demonstrate that the love is returned? For-profit businesses do it all the time; they call it “customer appreciation.” Libraries need to get the message out that we do all of our work out of devotion to those we serve.
Tokens of affection
A common interview question for library jobs asks the prospective employee what he or she likes about library work. Maybe you have even been asked some variation of the question for library or nonlibrary jobs. What is your answer? Why do you choose to follow a somewhat underappreciated, underpaid (at least for comparable master’s-level careers), and increasingly overworked profession? The ALA Code of Ethics explains it well; we choose our field to protect our patrons’ right to intellectual freedom and to serve people. Librarians have a good feeling when they help other people—even if those people don’t ever know they are being “helped.”
Think about the last time a friend or family member had a question about a health problem, needed a job, or was concerned about some issue. At some point, I would hazard a guess that you sought more information on that person’s behalf and offered it because you cared. That’s what librarians do every day for perfect strangers, people we may never see again. We gift them with information, however it is packaged, as a token of our appreciation and our love for their needs. Some of us even become slightly offended when our patrons turn to Google over us, even as we acknowledge that our libraries need to reimagine our services in order to meet the needs of this technological, rapidly changing society.
So how do we go about letting our patrons know we love them? We’ve already let them know how we are adding value to their lives. Now we need to let them feel the library love. It could be as simple as creating a button, hanging a banner, or adding a slogan to your email signatures that says, “We love our patrons.” Or it could be a full-blown customer appreciation event. It doesn’t matter how, but let’s make sure our patrons—any library’s most valuable asset—never question why libraries still exist. Remember: Even though we show them our love every day by providing materials, services, programs, classes, or free Wi-Fi, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through that we love our patrons at least as much as we like to think they love us.
Maybe if they valued their library as more than a service that saves them money, but also an intangible civic display of love for the community and the intellectual rights of the individuals living there, we wouldn’t have to fight so hard to preserve, protect, and defend our libraries. Because we love our patrons. Yes, yes, we do.
SARAH PRIELIPP is the tribal librarian for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.