Saturday, June 20, 2009

Once a Librarian, Now a Customer

I've got a new point of view on public libraries, that of the customer. The only other times I've been a library customer in the last 30 years were when I travelled and needed to access my email or print a boarding pass. And one time our staff was encouraged to do a role reversal and visit an unfamiliar public library as part of a training exercise. The point there was that we might look at our own libraries differently if we knew what it felt like to be a customer. We were given some survey questions and asked to judge the ambiance, staff, signage, collection, etc.

I've only spent 5 or 10 minutes at my former library once or twice a week since I've retired. It is strange being there as a customer. Unless I keep my sunglasses on, people stop and ask me how retirement is going, etc. We Texans are known to be a friendly bunch! It's great to see everyone, especially the staff. But it's challenging to just browse and blend into the background, having once been the big frog in that little pond. In Houston/Harris County, we have plenty of libraries to chose from, so I may decide to diversify my library visits. One customer asked me a question today as if I were still a staff member!

One thing I've noticed being a customer is that it can be a little tricky juggling everything I'm carrying while I'm in the library: books to check out, holds and their special envelopes, AV items, lists, library card, copier card if making copies, change for the booksale, etc. This is where shopping carts come in handy (there is just one available at my branch). Or book baskets (plenty of those available). Carrying a book tote helps. Maybe I'm still a little disoriented not having my office and desk as a point of operation when I'm in the library. But people who run libraries should make sure their customers have carts or baskets; they really help maximize the library experience (and increase circulation, no doubt).

An advantage of working in a library is the daily access to materials. Serendipity brought lots of great DVDs, books and magazines across my path. Now I have to order things or develop better browsing habits (I left the library today without looking for a movie, darn). We are trying to decide whether to join Netflix. I'm all for getting movies for free from the library, but the waiting lists for newly released films are quite long. Now that I do not have the opportunity to browse through DVDs daily, we seem to be running short of viewing materials.

After some more time has passed, I'm sure I will be an old hand at being a library customer. It still feels great to be retired. My list of projects and plans and things to do just keeps getting longer. Time for that old cliche: how did I find time to work? As for reading, my involvement with the TLA Lariat reading list task force means that boxes of brand new books are arriving at an alarming rate. I need to read several hours a day or I'll get behind. I am being forced to read books I would never have picked up before. More about that in future posts!

Photo: staff of West University Branch Library, HCPL, Spring 2009

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