Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are You An Approachable Librarian?

                                                       "Don't bother me, I'm working."

I was reading this short article in American Libraries the other night, and it made me react in two ways: 1.) It made me kind of ticked off and 2.) It made me look more closely at how I act and behave as a librarian. The article was called Approachable You and it was written by a guy, Will Manley, who has been in the library profession for a long time (the way he talks, since the 1800's-- since back in his day he had to walk 3 miles through snowstorms, up-hill both ways to work...). His rant is that librarians today pay zero attention to their patrons because their eyes are glued to a computer screen while they waste time surfing the Web. Thus, the major problem we are having in today's libraries is that patrons no longer want to come in and see us because the librarians give horrible customer service and act like they can't be bothered...

OK, well first of all I have to disagree with Mr. Manley. I can't speak for all librarians, but the ones that I work with-- while yes, they do use their computers at their reference desks-- are very friendly and approachable. I personally use a computer at my desk pretty much the whole time I work, unless I am teaching classes at the college library or helping a patron at the public library, but I don't think this means I am not paying attention to patrons. I do look up and scan the library on a regular basis and whenever someone comes in my direction I try to look up and smile-- I think Manley would find this kind of "customer service" laughable. But OK-- what are we supposed to be doing exactly? Breathing down the necks of our patrons? Waiting with baited breath on the edge of our chairs for that next reference question? I mean, c'mon, it's not realistic that our entire day is going to be spent waiting on patrons. Yes, they should always be our number one concern but when they aren't asking for our service, well, we patiently wait for them to come to us at our computer desks.

I really don't like how pompous and condescending Manley's article is. But I understand it is meant to be a wake-up call to all librarians, and so it did make me assess my own ability to seem "approachable" to patrons. It makes Manley "really flippin' mad" to see librarians staring at their computer screens. OK... well, I think patrons would be kind of creeped out if we were staring at them instead? Maybe getting away from the desk and taking a walk around the library to just see where patrons are and asking them if they need any help would be better? Still, I am one of those people who hates it when I am at a store and a sales associate asks if I need help- if I need help, I'll find someone and ask when I need it. Until then, leave me alone! Maybe this is just how I am, and so I assume that no one likes being approached in that way. Maybe that's a mistake on my part.

What do you think? Do you think Manley is being unfair to us librarians? Or does he have a point?? Furthermore, has technology made us better at our jobs- or has it become a barrier to quality customer service for our patrons?

Photo courtesy of Yeepet.com


  1. In my close to 3 years experience working in public libraries, I actually understand where Manley is coming from. Don't get me wrong, not ALL libraries are unapproachable, but I have experienced some that are way too focused on what they are doing on the computer to be the most approachable as possible.

    Good points though!

  2. It's definitely something I will keep in mind, being more conscientious of the patron... Even today at the Ref desk, I was looking up more often and making eye contact and smiling to anyone who came near my desk :)

  3. Oh please, Manley sounds like he should lighten up a bit. We've created such a friendly environment in my library that my patrons often come in for hours just to chat with us. We laugh more and make more conversational noise than the pizza place next door.

    And guess where my nose is when I'm not in the middle of a conversation with my patrons? Glued to a computer screen! Or, god forbid, a book! Because, you know what? I do get a ton of reading done at work :) And why is that such a bad thing? Isn't it a good thing when librarians are also book lovers?

    What matters more, I think, is how a person responds when a patron does ask a question or approach the desk to check out. I may be reading or writing my next book review, but as soon as a patron approaches me I give them a big smile and enthusiastically ask them how I can help them.

    I love my job and my patrons. Maybe the problem he sees is less with librarians using a computer (or reading a book! Gosh, I still can't get over what he said about being banned from reading in a library!), and more about people not enjoying their job.

    Or maybe he's just getting what he wants. I don't think I'd feel all that happy if a judging know-it-all was condemning my work ethic after a second of observation. If he came in and glanced over at me on the computer, it sounds like I'd be the subject of his rant. Yet my patrons would beg to differ.

    Wow, sorry this is so long!

  4. Small, loved your comment! Yes, I totally agree, he needs to lighten up a bit! Like I said, I can understand where he's coming from TO A POINT, but then he just goes overboard with things like NO reading, NO computers at the desk-- whereas, he should've focused more on what we're doing when we ARE with patrons, not what we occupy ourselves with when we aren't getting reference questions or interacting with people coming in...

    I'm loving how people are viewing both sides of this article's message :)

  5. Haha, yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say! You said it much better :) You're right, it's all about moderation. We shouldn't ignore our patrons but, wow, I'm still hung up on his comment about no books allowed.