Brian Herzog, a librarian at the Chelmsford Public 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 collaborate on a project one day, he found that smeary screens, sticky keyboards, and several other problems made for a less-than-wonderful experience. Therefore, on “Work Like a Patron” day, librarians would use public entrances, terminals, restrooms, drinking fountains, and even (gasp!) the circulation desk, just like our patrons, to experience the library as they do.
This is a concept that we children’s librarians should embrace, and not just on October 15 but on a regular basis. Here’s how it would work:
Walk into the children’s area while imagining that you are a slightly bored 4th-grader. Not only do you not really know what book you’re looking for, you don’t really even know if you want a book. What do you see? Are there bright displays or posters attracting your attention and letting you know about great books or free library programs? Are there magazines and comic books (not all torn up but in plastic protectors) right at eye-level? Is there a super-cool graphic novel section in plain view? Are any novels or nonfiction books displayed face-out to tantalize you? Does a children’s librarian ask in a friendly way how he or she can help you?
On another day, pretend you’re the tired parent or caregiver of a 4-month old baby and a three-year-old. Does your library have a changing table in the restrooms? Is there attractive and comfortable furniture for you and your kids to snuggle up together with a book? Are there educational toys and objects like puppets, mazes, and so on so that your toddler can play, and are they clean? Are the board books within reach of your toddler and in good and sanitary condition? Is the staff welcoming and friendly? Are the parenting books easy to find? Are there cloth books and other materials for your baby?
Now you’re a 2nd-grader with an animal assignment or perhaps a 6th-grader who needs to read a mystery. Are the librarians at the information desk welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable? Is the information desk so high that the 2nd-grader can barely see over it? Is the information desk extremely visible from the children’s area? If the library doesn’t have just what you need, does the librarian make sure that you’ll be able to get it elsewhere?
And in general – is the children’s area brightly lit, attractive, comfortable, and welcoming? Are the books orderly and neat, with plenty of titles face-out? Are the high shelves low enough for younger patrons to reach? Does the arrangement of the various sections – picture books, independent readers, graphic novels, chapter books, AV materials, etc – make sense? Can kids readily find the section they need even if a librarian is not immediately available to help them? Do kids feel welcome – or are they glared at and shushed? Are librarians being proactive and finding kids in the stacks, rather than waiting for kids to find them at the information desk?
Looking at our libraries, and in particular our children’s areas, with the eyes of our patrons can help us improve our service tremendously. Let’s make every day “Work Like a Patron” Day!