or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Details Create the Big Picture

   October 13th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Walking in someone else's shoesThanks to everyone who took part in Work Like A Patron Day yesterday, and I hope you got something out of it.

I wasn't able to spend as much time with it as I had hoped, between meetings and projects and helping patrons (it was a busy day yesterday). In the time that I was WLAP'ing, I didn't notice anything major, but just a lot of little things - hence the title of this post, which is a quote from Sanford I. Weill.

  • At the public workstations, I'm always straightening our scrap paper and pencils holders, but when you sit down to check your email, it's easy to get tunnel vision and not even notice that stuff - maybe I'm just more of a neat-freak than necessary
  • The tunnel vision also filters out most of the noise and bustle of the library - which, in my library, there can be a lot of. At the reference desk the noise makes me tense because I worry it might be bothering other patrons, but when WLAP'ing, it didn't really seem that bad. Actually, it just seemed like I was sitting in a very busy and active library, which was great
  • We have an overhead public address system in my library, and you can clearly tell which staff are comfortable using it and which are a little intimidated, by the tone of their voice during announcements
  • The woman who used the study room before me smelled strongly of mint
  • Another staff person pointed out that we need to clean the front of the building - it looks okay in this picture, but the "Chelmsford Public Library" engraved in the stonework is getting obscured by rust from the roof

I was a little disappointed I didn't get to spend more time with this today, but it's certainly not just a one-day event. I try to do this any time I can all year round.

Thanks again to everyone who participated, and please share any highlights of your day.



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Working Like a Patron, and, Rethinking Reference

   October 11th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Shift the traditionsJust two sort-of unrelated announcements today, although they actually compliment each other quite well:

Wed., Oct. 12, is Work Like A Patron Day
I know it's not feasible for everyone, but if you get the chance tomorrow, try approaching the library as if you're a patron - use the front door, use the public bathroom, see if the posted signs help you at all, whatever. Check out the Work Like A Patron Day 2011 post for more ideas and how to share your experiences.

Rethinking Reference, Non-Fiction, and Local History
This past Friday I gave a talk for NHLA-READS on a few projects my library has done to keep our collections (and access to them) in step with the needs of our patrons. They are a great group and I had a wonderful time, both giving my talk and listening to the other speakers. If you're interested, my slides and other links are available.



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Work Like A Patron Day 2011

   September 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Working like a patronIn 2008, I announced the first "Work Like A Patron" day - I've been mostly quiet about it since, but David and Jessamyn have both talked about the idea lately, so I thought I'd offer it up again.

The point of Work Like A Patron day is to remind librarians that libraries are for patrons, and it's important to gauge the result of our efforts from their point of view. I know lots of people do this on a daily basis anyway, but for my own benefit it helps to make a special effort to view the library through a patron's eyes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Work Like A Patron day takes place on the Wednesday of the week six months after National Library Week. That was April 10-16, so this year's Work Like A Patron day will be Wednesday, October 12 - that's just two weeks away!

Ideas for Working Like A Patron
I know every library is different, and lots of people routinely do these things, but here are a few things I do to get out from behind the desk and experience the library like a patron:

  • enter and leave the library through the public entrance (not the staff doors)
  • use the public restrooms
  • try doing some work on the public computers
  • call the library's main number and negotiate the phone system
  • reserve public meeting rooms for meetings
  • return your items in the book drop
  • navigate the library's website as if you're not already familiar with it
  • follow all library policies
  • read posted signs to see how helpful they are

Obviously, not everything will be applicable to every library, and not all library staff can do their work away from their desks. The real point of Work Like A Patron day is to just spend some time experiencing the library like a patron, not like a librarian.

Share your Experience
I'm always curious to hear about it, so if you'd like to share what you did on Work Like a Patron day, tweet with the hashtag #wlap or add a link to the Library Success wiki Work Like A Patron page. Or, of course, share in the comments below.



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Work Like A Patron Recap

   October 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Working like a patronI hope everyone enjoyed Work Like a Patron Day, and found a way to make using the library easier for your patrons.

I didn't get to spend as much time as I had hoped, but I did notice a few things:

  • We need more scrap paper at the workstations
  • We need to clean up the litter and leaves and sticks and other debris around the front steps
  • We should rename our wireless network from "CPL-g" to something an uninitiated patron will recognize and feel safe with
  • It turns out that staff congregating and chatting at service desks is every bit as distracting as patrons on cell phones

But what struck me the most wasn't what I noticed, but what kinds of things I noticed. I mean, I already know that the patron catalog interface needs improvement, and that not everyone understands how to log on to a computer or where the photocopier is.

Everything I noticed yesterday were little things. Even though I'm among the public computers every day, and we replenish them with scrap paper when we see them empty, if you're a patron sitting there and there is no paper, it doesn't help that staff put some there that morning. It's not there now. And the junk around the front door is easy to miss when you've got on the blinders of familiarity - it's always there, so I stopped noticing it. But when you do notice it, it looks kind of bad.

So in addition to the original list, I'm also going to make a point of looking for the subtle things, like:

  • Is there a glare on computers by the windows at certain parts of the day?
  • Is it too hot/cold in here?
  • Does it stink in here?
  • How easy is the phone menu system to navigate?

Even if I can't change them, staff being aware of them is a good thing, because I'm sure our patrons are.

So thank you to everyone who supported and participated in the day. I got lots of emails and saw many posts and comments about it, which is great. In fact, I only saw one negative comment about it. It astounds me that someone who writes for Library Journal would criticize the idea of making the library a better place, but there you go.

Be sure to remember this day next year, too. More information is available on
http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Work_Like_A_Patron_Day and http://www.flickr.com/groups/worklikeapatronday.



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“Work Like A Patron” Day

   October 7th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Working at a public library computerLast week, a library volunteer and I were working on a project together. We each needed to work on a computer, but be close enough together to talk. The only arrangement like this in the library are the public workstations, so we worked out there.

In addition to getting the work done, I learned a few things:

  • some of the keys of the keyboard didn't work very well
  • the monitor had streaks and fingerprints on it
  • it was hard to concentrate with people walking and talking around us
  • both of us forgot to bring a flash drive to save our work

This experience reminded me of a post I read on Walking Paper (but I couldn't find it again). Aaron mentioned how important it was to put ourselves in our patrons' shoes, so we can see the library as they see it.

That's why I'm proposing "Work Like A Patron Day" on October 15th. In honor of the day, I think library staff should (when possible):

  • enter and leave the library through the public entrance (not the staff doors)
  • use the public restrooms
  • use the public computers to do your work
  • reserve public meeting rooms for meetings
  • follow all library policies

Obviously, exceptions will need to be made. But, much like a sheriff spending a week in his own jail, this would give library staff a different perspective on the library. Experiencing the library in this way will make sure the library isn't just the place we work, but it's where our patrons work. And play.

As for the date, I picked October 15th because it is six months after Library Appreciation Week, which was April 13th-17th. Not that working like a patron is the opposite of appreciating the library, but it seemed to fit. Or maybe the week surrounding Oct. 15th should be "Library Patron Appreciation Week," of which "Work Like A Patron Day" is just one day.

Update: Thanks to a comment below, I added a Work Like A Patron day page to the staff training section of the Library Success wiki (http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Work_Like_A_Patron_Day) for general information and a flickr group (http://www.flickr.com/groups/worklikeapatronday) for sharing photos of the day. Please also share your experiences from the day here in the comments.



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