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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.



Should librarians join their public library?

May 14th, 2008

Recently I added my blog to the UK Library Bloggers Wiki, or at least it was added by Jennie, its creator. This prompted me to subscribe to a few other library blogs, not least that of Jennie herself, and this recent post caught my eye: http://jennielaw.blogspot.com/2008/05/to-join-or-not-to-join.html. As a wannabe librarian whose interests have always lain in academic libraries, this is an interesting subject for me, and I thought I’d ruminate a little more.

I joined my local library when I decided that maybe I wanted to be a librarian one day. It’s actually quite illuminating to see a service entirely as a user, so I guess I see librarians joining libraries as an opportunity for professional development, rather than an ideological imperative. However, I share Jennie’s guilt. I haven’t joined my local library while I’m on my year-long trainee placement. I barely go into town, and we have a fiction section in our academic library, which provides all the literature I need. I have visited the library out of curiosity, a library is always a good bolt hole in an unfamiliar town, and I’ve been on a visit to Chelmsford Public Library, part of the same Essex system, so I’ve got an idea of how it works behind the scenes as well.

My favourite fact I gleaned from Essex Public Libraries is that I’m not really the library’s target audience, so that makes me feel a bit better. The active acquisitions head revealed that libraries cater better for some than others, as some are much bigger users of libraries than others. This is partly in response to perceived need. Some of my favourite genres (sci fi, graphic novels) are purposefully stocked in low numbers, as readers of these tend to buy their own materials. And yes, said head pointed out how circular this was. Apparently I need to develop a taste for ‘sagas’ (read: Mills and Boon) to truly benefit from the local library’s stock!

How important is it to know about (let alone use) public libraries in order to be a good librarian? An ex-colleague of mine, working in an academic library, was put out when his chartership was questioned on the grounds of a lack of reference to public libraries. Some assume that public libraries are the ‘real’ libraries, and that other librarianship is just a pale, commercial shadow. You certainly wouldn’t expect a chartering public librarian to be criticised for failing to include references to special libraries in their materials. However, neither would a public librarian be eligible to become a user in the majority of special libraries.

I think that assuming librarians will be public library users is a bit naive. However, as individuals it’s well worth taking the time to learn a few lessons from our local public library. It seems to me that one of the major jobs of any librarian is convincing his or her userbase that he or she is not just the keeper of a bunch of book shelves. Looking beyond our book-based needs as users to see what services the library can provide us therefore makes a whole lot of sense. Thinking about our own enthusiasm for such value-added services (or lack thereof) can help us think about how to market our own services to users. Of course, if we truly believe that the only service the public library offers for librarians (and others like them) is obsolete, maybe we should go and give our colleagues a good sharp poke in the ribs.

One Response to “Should librarians join their public library?”

  1. Jennie says:

    I’m glad I’m not alone!
    I too like Sci Fi, and hate ‘sagas’, so can’t see myself nipping into my local library for a Mills and Boon!
    I do feel that, as a working professional with disposable income and no children, there’s very little about the offerings of a public library that appeals to me. If I won’t go for the books, then there’s nothing else for me to go for: I have my own internet access and computer at home, I need no help with researching anything or working online, I have no need to pick up books for kids, or join community groups, socialise in a coffee shop (that some appear to have), study and request materials from other libraries…I just can’t think of a reason that would get me in there, to be honest!
    And that’s not a dig at the libraries, it’s just, as you say, I’m really not their target audience. There are plenty of people who need the expert help of the staff in many areas outside of ‘just books’, but I’m experienced enough to not need that help, which therefore only leaves me with the ‘just books’ option.

    Thankfully, my lack of public libraries reference in my Chartership was never questioned, but I’d have been outraged if it was! I made an effort to learn about art gallery, university, and international libraries, but I feel my knowledge of public libraries is as deep as it need be for a non-user, commercial-library experienced professional.

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