The most vulnerable person in your library is your patron. This might sound counter-intuitive to many people. Surely the library is a community institution, a safe space for everyone to come and share their ideas and opinions for the collective good. But, what many of us forget is that even if the library is described with words such as "community", "safe space" and "sharing" it is also described with words such as "institution", "computers" and "literacy". These are loaded words in our lexicon and while many of us might be comfortable using them in daily conversation many people in our communities are not. These words, these concepts are fundamental barriers which impede the use of our libraries by the entire community.
This is a problem and it is one which is not easily addressed. To run a successful public library it is as important to understand the concept of "not-patron" as it is to understand the "patron". And that is the main reason this blog exists. To this end I submit for your edification, if not amusement the "Last Mile Library". The metaphor comes from marathons where it is commonly accepted that the final mile of the race is the most mentally challenging. Similarly, when they come in the library we should be viewing our patrons as marathon runners in the final mile of their race.
Why is this important? Because we don't know what sort of journey our patron might have been on that day, that week, year or even lifetime.
But what we do know is that information is the great leveller. "Knowledge is power" and knowledge liberally shared has the potential to focus and transform lives. Librarians need to take a more proactive approach to facilitate this. We are missing opportunities to support our patrons with the services and resources they need. For this reason I have developed the concept of the "Last Mile Library".
This is what we agreed to do when we decided to become librarians. We signed up to serve our patrons. While quoting Ranganathan might seem rather "cute" in the 21st century "Every reader his/her book. Every book a reader." Is something to be mindful of. It is easy to think of the "average" library patron as someone looking for another romance novel; or the "normal" library staffer as someone who hasn't accepted their own mortality. As human's we have the capacity to function outside the parameters of our immediate environment and to work beyond ideas about our immediate interest.
So when the patron comes into our library. Looking for a book or searching for the answer to a question they are exhibiting behaviour which is inherently irrational because they are showing vulnerability. But at the same time they are coming with an expectation that their irrational behaviour will bring them a reward in the form of answers to questions or perhaps the latest Danielle Steele novel. Either way they are taking a risk and it is our obligation to help turn it into a success. Generations of librarians have created a safe sphere where the patron can ask questions and put themselves in a vulnerable position as part of their search for knowledge.
And this is probably the last and most important point about the patron in the Last Mile Library. We need to make sure those searches are successful.
One thought on “Your Patrons are sick and tired and they don’t want to take it anymore!”
Thank you Ron. That is a crucial moment when somebody says to themselves “What the heck, maybe I’ll try asking library staff.” It is surprising what people will confide in the hope you’ll actually help them.