Thursday, March 15, 2007

Go Where the Users Go!

There's a lot of talk these days about how librarians should stop being so stuffy about things like libraries and collections and should just adapt themselves to whatever fads happen to be popular with people right now. That's even true in academic libraries, where we're supposed to think that 18-year-olds with their broad and deep education are the best judges of how libraries should be run.

All the frustrated trendsetters want to leave the old-fashioned library notions behind and go where the users go. Since I don't have any principles and am easily led by the bandwagon appeal, I've decided to go along for the ride. No, this doesn't mean I'm opening up a branch of the Annoyed Librarian Flea Libary on Second Life. I'm too busy with my first life to bother. But it does mean I think that librarians should start going where the users go. And we know where that is:


The obvious answer to the question, "Where do the users go?" Think about it. This is a space that almost all library users will visit at one time or another. I bet the usage statistics are higher than the reference desk! And yet, knowing that not only are our users there, but that while there they are a captive audience for our many information services, why have we waited this long to exploit this opportunity? Why, because we're all just reactionaries who don't want to adapt to the times! And unlike other "spaces" associated with the library, like "virtual" reference, this time we know we have the audience there in person, unless there's some advance on Internet technology I haven't heard about.

How do we exploit this opportunity? I've got several suggestions.

First, we gotta go mobile. The best way to do this is to have an apparatus similar to that of a cigarette girl, only with a laptop instead of cigarettes. We should probably include a few pieces of scrap paper in case people need to write down call #s or something, and maybe some extra toilet paper in case people need to, you know.

Next, we should use every available space to spread our messages. Sure, right now there might be some graffiti in your restroom stalls. We need to replace that graffiti with our own library graffiti. "For a good time call...the Reference Desk!" That sort of thing. We could add a newsletter, or better yet, have toilet paper printed with our library newsletter, which would guarantee people would at least handle the newsletter, even if they didn't read it, and it would go to a lot more use than most library newsletters do now.

And you know how patrons are sometimes hesitant to approach the reference desk, because they don't want to disturb us? Or maybe because they just don't have any questions? Now we don't have to worry about that, because we'd be going where the users go. It's a well documented fact that people are never more comfortable or less inhibited than when resting on the, um, porcelain throne. We can take advantage of that relaxation to get the best reference interview possible. Imagine how concise the reference interview would be if we poked our head over the stall door and said in a loud clear voice, "How may I help you?!" (we'll either need step-stools or short stall doors; I recommend the latter. Saves the hassle of moving the stool). Imagine the surprised look on the face of our beloved patrons when they realize how hard we're working for them. Our beaming expressions and vacant eyes should tell them that we're excited about going where they go!

And of course we'll have to install wireless computers in all the stalls. You know how some stalls have those diaper changing stations? We could do the same thing, except when you pull down the little door thingie it could be a keyboard for a computer! Imagine how relaxing library research would be if we did that. I said, imagine it! And if we keep a little plastic cover over it, it could still be used for diaper changing! This whole Library 2.0 thing is about adapting to the supposed needs of our patrons. Well, they need to use computers and they need to change diapers. This way we kill one bird with two stones.

Just to let people know how much we want to satisfy their information needs, we could knock on the doors every two minutes and ask if they have any questions. I think it would be fun.

Okay, I realize I've left out a group that thinks itself important--men. Yes, I know a lot of men probably don't use stalls because they have urinals. I figure that just saves us the effort of looking over the stall door to make eye contact. The walls over the urinals can still have our newsletter, and we can send in any male librarians to slap "users" on the back, look them in the eye, and ask if they have any questions. I'd do this myself, but I'm afraid of what the questions might be.

Remember our motto: Go Where the Users Go! ®


Anonymous said...

The world is littered with start ups that wanted to place message boards, news stories, ads, etc. above urinals. It's deceptively alluring: Men read in the bathroom. Men stare at blank walls above urinals, therefore...

Need I remind you of my "looped bathroom porn/cam idea" as both a resource and a revenue generator? To blend your idea and mine, how about an interactive intercom where the librarian virtually "visits" each stall, interacts with the patron, shows stuff on the screen, prints out a little slip of paper with call numbers or even lets the patron order books to be picked up at the desk! All from the cozy confines of a stall!

Best of all--the librarian can be in India and get paid 83 cents per hour, like the teleremote order takers at McDonald's! Huzzah! Technology!


Anonymous said...

Wow. I almost pissed my pants laughing over that one. And yet, it rings so true if the "trendsetters" really went with what they preach. Anon. had the idea I was thinking towards the end of all that reading stuff over the urinals. Hmm, if they had "library girls" like that cigarette girl, I may just do more of my library transactions in the bathroom (nice of you to include a picture. On a serious note, I doubt most the "trendsetters" would have known the reference otherwise).

This definitely has a lot of potential.

Bunny Watson said...

Swarthmore College Library's "Toilet Papers" are actually displayed in the bathrooms.

Anonymous said...

Oh my lord, I thought that was some joke Bunny. Is that for real? How desperate does a library have to be in order to make bathroom reading out of their newsletter. The scary thing is, if my superiors see that, they are liable to look into implementing it. I can see it now, "but it would be another way to reach our patrons right where they are."

I still would prefer to use something like (insert your favorite proprietary soft ply brand) toilet paper though.

Anonymous said...

Our "customers" are an enterprising lot and would never wait for us to arrive in the bathroom to "serve" them. I answered the ref desk phone one day a few months ago to be informed by a "customer" that he was calling from the bathroom on his cellphone and that he needed toilet paper..... Brings a whole new meaning to "change agent," doesn't it?

NilaKamala said...

Oh no! Our library has just placed flyers announcing the latest user survey in the stalls. Well, at least you have to walk to the computers to fill the actual survey (it's a very short distance from the restroom which occupy the pride of place in our renovated, supercool information commons.) And to think that my reference colleagues were complicit in that...