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

“Work Like A Patron” Day

   October 7th, 2008

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

33 Responses to ““Work Like A Patron” Day”

  1. Aaron Says:

    yes, yes, yes!

    i’m always telling librarians that they need to work on their public computers.

    “Work Like A Patron Day” takes the whole thing a step further. i LOVE it.

    now how can we get the patrons behind the circ and reference desks?

  2. work like a patron day - walking paper Says:

    […] absolute gem of an idea from Brian Herzog: Work Like a Patron Day That’s why I’m proposing “Work Like A Patron Day” on October 15th. In honor of the day, I […]

  3. Jeff Says:

    That’s a great concept. I think more staff need to experience their own library and understand how frustrating it can be.

  4. Life as a Library Patron « Shaping Libraries Says:

    […] Library Patron Brian Herzog at Swiss Army Librarian has come up with an interesting concept: Work Like a Patron Day. Basically, Herzog recommends doing as much as possible the way a patron does things, including […]

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Aaron: maybe we could just put our desks on wheels and spin them around.

    I also thinking about making a sign that says “the librarian is IN” to hang on whatever public computer I use on Oct. 15th, to make sure the patrons know where to find me.

  6. Kathleen de la Peña McCook Says:

    Are you going to post a place to discuss after WLAP Day for reports?

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kathleen: Good idea. I just created a page on 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. Feel free to also share your experiences here in the comments section. If you have another idea on how to spread the word or archive reports or ideas from the day, please let me know.

  8. Kelly’s MedLib Musings » Work Like A Patron Day Says:

    […] Swiss Army Librarian » “Work Like A Patron” Day :: Brian Herzog. […]

  9. Oct. 15 Work Like A Patron Day…10.13.08 « The Proverbial Lone Wolf Librarian’s Weblog Says:

    […] more background and just why you should try this check out the post on theSwiss Army Librarian  […]

  10. Loose Cannon Librarian » PO blues Says:

    […] Working like a patron can start anywhere, even the Post Office. […]

  11. Name trouble « Impromptu Librarian Says:

    […] for your library cards online, do your programs annoy your patrons like this?  In the spirit of Work Like a Patron Day, try and add a name like mine to your database.  Two first names.  Hyphenated last name.  Does it […]

  12. AB Says:

    I don’t know how roving/mobile reference works for other libraries but much of what you’re proposing is what our public service/reference staff tends to on a daily basis because we are constantly moving throughout our building.

    Sometimes I think other staff is miffed they’re not as “in the know” as we are – good, bad & ugly if something is going on, we saw it 😉

  13. Brian Herzog Says:

    @AB: good point – the goal is to get out and be among the patrons, which happens all the time when you’re roving. I think there’s always a gap between “staff” thinking and “patron” thinking, just due to familiarity. But maybe staff will like this so much that roving will become more popular.

  14. Kristen Says:


    – We don’t have a separate staff entrance

    – We don’t have separate staff bathrooms

    – We already share our meeting rooms

    – Employees regularly use the public computers to check personal email, etc while on breaks

    I had no idea we were unusual.

  15. ALSC Blog » Blog Archive » Seeing Our Libraries Through the Eyes of Our Patrons Says:

    […] Library in Massachusetts, suggests in his blog Swiss Army Librarian that October 15 be declared “Work Like a Patron” day in libraries across the USA.  When he and a coworker had to use public terminals to […]

  16. imPACt Blog » Work Like a Patron Day Says:

    […] “Work Like A Patron” Day […]

  17. Cari Says:

    Hey Brian! You may remember me from library school (I’m a friend of Cheryl’s). I like the idea! My director here at Twinsburg PL encourages these sorts of things all the time–we’re very hands-on with our patrons–but I bet there are lots of libraries who have more of a separation between patrons and staff. Especially if they’re big and the administration doesn’t get a lot of time on the floor. And hey, the idea got a cartoon in Shelf Check… that always means it’s good 🙂

  18. AL Inside Scoop » A Patron-Eye View Says:

    […] recently saw an excellent proposal from Brian Herzog at Swiss Army Librarian for “Work Like a Patron” day. As the name suggests, the day entails librarians working, […]

  19. Mark Says:

    This might just be the dumbest thing a librarian has ever concocted.

  20. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kristen: I suppose all libraries are different. Being separated from the patrons a bit is good for something, but it does also mean we lose touch, too. I’m not sure if your situation is better or worse.

    @Cari: Good to hear from you again – and it’s great that you’re library is so proactive. Thanks for letting me know about the Self Check strip, too – that’s great.

    @Mark: I think you’re giving me too much credit, but I do agree with you – librarians should act like this everyday.

  21. Heidi Says:

    Brian, this is fantastic! Having done a bit of patronage myself (i.e. visited the library from the “other side of the desk”), I can vouch for how challenging and sometimes daunting any library can seem. Seeing a library from the perspective of a patron is like visiting a new country, and, altho travel broadens our horizons, it can sometimes be a bit scary and intimidating. But having a librarian who appreciates that will certainly help to create a better patron experience. And for me (and I’m sure for most of you), the most important part of working in a public library is providing quality public service so that people can have fun and maybe learn something in the process. This idea will help us to achieve that. So, great idea, Brian!

    And I agree with the Loose Cannon Librarian that this is such an excellent idea that it should transcend libraries and expand to all areas of public service!

  22. This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Library :gatherthing Says:

    […] recently I found this idea for seeing things from a library customer’s point of view. I especially like this quote […]

  23. Work Like a Patron Day « Sources of Inspiration Says:

    […] 25, 2008 at 8:31 pm (Food for Thought) A few weeks ago, I happened upon a blog entry from Brian Herzog, the Swiss Army Librarian about how he had to work on a project on a public workstation, and what he learned from the […]

  24. Why “Work Like a Patron Day” won’t work | tara robertson Says:

    […] first read about  Work Like a Patron Day on Aaron Schmidt’s Walking Paper.  At first glance Work Like a Patron Day seemed like a good […]

  25. Work Like a Patron Day | US Libraries Says:

    […] “Work Like A Patron” Day […]

  26. Le marketing 2.0 et les bibliothèques « Gonflé à Blog Says:

    […] nos services et notre politique. A ce sujet voyer l’initiative de Brian Hertzog et sa “Journée de l’Usager” (en la comparant à : “un sheriff qui passerait une semaine dans sa propre […]

  27. Work Like a Patron Day | U.S. IMPACT studies Says:

    […] “Work Like A Patron” Day […]

  28. 5 Thoughts about the Applecart: #3 – Assessment and Evaluation « Speaking of Information Says:

    […] perspective. Andy offers some great suggestions on how to give it a try, including a reference to a brilliant idea posed by Brian Herzog (Swiss Army […]

  29. information wants to be expensive | lis.dom Says:

    […] us to accomplish online in hour long sessions on public library computers. If I’d had to work like a patron today, I wouldn’t have gotten much of anything done. The rise of emedia means that not only […]

  30. Shirley McCullough Says:

    I was wondering how the clerks would fit into the work like a patron day. Most of our work is done on sirsi, so I was wondering how this will all work out. We could check our personal email which I do occasionally, but what else workwise would the clerks be able to accomplish on the patron computers?

  31. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Shirley: I guess it depends on what your clerks do – of course they can’t use the ILS, but they could design and print bookmarks, reading guides, signs, etc. They could sit at tables and stuff envelopes for overdue notices, or use a cell phone to call people and let them know their holds are ready (wherever you allow people to use phones, which might be outside the front door). Tech services might have a harder time of it, since processing and covering books requires both the staff access to the catalog and a lot of other equipment, stamps and stickers. Work Like A Patron Day isn’t a flawless thing, just a way to expose library staff to the reality of library patrons.

    Anyone else have additional ideas?

  32. Swiss Army Librarian » Work Like A Patron Day 2011 :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] Like A Patron Day 2011    September 27th, 2011 In 2008, I announced the first "Work Like A Patron" day – I've been mostly quite about it since, but David and Jessamyn have both talked about the idea […]

  33. Work Like A Patron Day 2011 « People Interact Says:

    […] 2008, Brian Herzog, a fellow Library Journal Mover & Shaker, announced the first Work Like A Patron Day.  This year we’ve decided to […]