Yesterday there I was sitting in a coffeehouse doing some writing (for an exciting project! stay tuned), and the guy next to me struck up a conversation, which started with Macs (my laptop, his iPad, the just-announced Air) and ended up with something like this:
Him: “You know what would be a great app for you to develop? Something where — instead of just searching the Minuteman consortium — I could search everywhere, and see if any other libraries had what I’m looking for when Minuteman doesn’t?”
Me: “You mean like WorldCat?” (Which I then showed him on my laptop, to his elation.)
Him: “Yeah! Exactly! So like…I could go there and borrow the book! Wait, can I borrow stuff from those libraries? Sign up or give them some money or something and get a card? What if I can’t, but they’re the only ones with the book I have?”
Me: “Well, you could ask your library to get it for you with interlibrary loan…”
Him: “They do that?!? Whoa.”
So, two things.
One, I see that graduating from library school has, in fact, given me that forehead tattoo that says “Yes, please ask me for information, I can totally help you.” Sweet.
Two. Ah, two: not so sweet. Here we have a guy who’s clearly smart and information-driven, probably educated — mind-melded to his iPad, iPhone beside him, owner of a niche software company, seems to actually understand technical details of how his product works. He is, I’d inferred from the conversation leading to this point, a regular user of his library. And he didn’t know this stuff.
It reminded me of the conversation that was floating around the blogosphere a while back about library signage. What are the library signs I’ve seen? Don’t eat or drink, don’t use your cell phone, don’t leave your laptop unattended or it will get stolen. A tiny handful of encouraging signs about lending Playaways, but mostly don’t, don’t, don’t. And what’s that stereotype of librarians? Oh, yeah. Shushing. Don’t talk. The other day in a local children’s room, my 3-year-old was super-excited about the miniature pumpkins they’d put on all the desks, and she was gently picking up and putting down each one, and a librarian yelled at her, don’t touch.
When I talk to librarian colleagues, the interactions are overwhelmingly generous and positive. But when I interact with libraries as a patron, I mostly get told about what I can’t do. It took going to library school for me to learn about WorldCat and, yes, even ILL (and I have an MA!) — to learn what I can.
How do we do a better job of telling patrons what they can? Who’s got some happy examples of libraries doing this?