Wednesday, March 3, 2010

an open letter to library patrons

Dear library patrons:

I don't say this often enough, but I love you.  It may not always seem so, but seriously, you're special and awesome--and you validate my existence on a regular basis.  Want to hear more?

I love that you pay taxes.  I know you don't have much choice in that part, but the fact remains that you make the wheels go round.  If you didn't pay your property taxes and vote to approve increases in our cut of them from time to time, there wouldn't be much of a library.  And the fact that you vote in our favor more often than not says something about your awesomeness.  Thanks for being a part of this process, for your ungrudging financial support of the concept and the reality of a library system.

I love that you use the library.  Your participation--visiting the library, checking out materials, attending programs, using the on-site resources like computers and newspapers--drives the machine.  It doesn't matter if we have green buildings or the newest book releases or state-of-the-art technologies or dynamic programming unless you're there to use it.  When you use the library, we take notice and keep count and use that information to give you more of what you like and want and need, whether that means purchasing new materials, redesigning space, hiring staff, or funding programs.  So when you come to the library, you're improving us and shaping the library to be a real part of the community.  Thanks for making us relevant.

I love the variety you bring to my job.  Each of you who use the library have your own agenda--your own needs and preferences--that determine what you require from the library and from the staff.  I love that doing my job means that I can help people find books that they will enjoy, that I can show people how to find information that they need, that I can entertain and teach through programs.  If you were all the same or needed the same things from me, the monotony of my job would swallow me whole. Thanks for being different and for allowing me to come to know your differences. 

I love that you're invested in what we do.  For most of you, the library is not just a business that you frequent to receive a product or a service.  Maybe it's because you know you're paying for this, but library patrons want to talk about the library, about our books, about our programs, about the way we do things, and I love that you take that interest in us.  Regular library patrons establish relationships with us whether you realize it or not, and I'm grateful that by and large, those relationships are positive and pleasant and mutually beneficial.  Connecting and interacting with you is the best part of what I do.  Thanks for caring.

I love that you bring your kids to the library.  You're not just modeling literacy (though that's important enough by itself) but you're also creating a new generation of library users, who will pay taxes and use our resources and be invested in the library for years to come.  That's the important and far-reaching consequence of bringing your kids to the library, but I also love the immediate result:  your kids are fun and cute and curious and eager, and I like seeing them and the energy they bring when they come to the library.  I love watching them grow up.  And I love knowing that they at least sometimes get something from being at the library that they couldn't have gotten at school or home.  Thanks for sharing them with us.

I love that you follow the rules even when they seem arbitrary and complicate your life.  I love that you check out books and return them, mostly on time.  I love that you pay your fines.  I love that you use our hold system.  And I love that most of you understand that the rules are in place for a reason, and that we, as staff, are following them and asking you to do the same because it's required of us, not because we enjoy torturing patrons.  Thanks for being good sports.

And I know that just because I love you for all of those reasons (and probably a few more), the feeling is not always mutual.  And I know that the blame for that usually lies with me.  Bearing that in mind, I'd like to offer you an apology.

I'm sorry that I have to enforce the rules.  Even if I disagree with them, there are certain policies that I have to follow.  Yes, I'm probably on your side, and my goal is to say yes as often as I can, but some lines I cannot cross.  I'm sorry for the times that those situations put us on opposing sides.

I'm sorry that I'm a grump.  If I have to get up and go to a job every morning, this is the job I want.  I think it's the best thing I could be doing.  I love it.  But I have bad days.  I come to work tired or under the weather or worried about things.  I get frustrated.  I get lazy.  I get bored.  And much more often than I should, I allow that to affect how we interact.  I'm impatient or short with you.  I don't warmly engage you.  I don't smile.  I'm sorry for those times that I let my attitude negatively affect our time together.

I'm sorry that I let a few unpleasant patrons set the tone for everyone.  More often than it should, library staff areas are full of complaints and stories of the bad patrons, those that don't accept the rules or who take out their frustration on staff members.  Those patrons are a minority, but we're human and flawed and tend to focus on those negative few rather than the majority of you, who are so capable of inspiring our most positive emotions.  You deserve so much better.  I'm sorry for those times when I'm guilty of painting you all with the same brush.

I'm sorry that every staff member you encounter at the library doesn't love you the way I love you.  I'll admit it--there are some duds out there.  They frustrate me because they can't seem to appreciate the awesomeness of you.  And their grumpiness and frustration and lack of communication with you make my job harder, besides making library visits unpleasant for you.  I try to stay positive and enjoy our time together, but I know that not all of us do.  I'm sorry we don't appreciate our jobs and our patrons more.

In short, library patrons, feel the love.  Accept my apologies.  Forgive my flaws.  Library patrons, let's be friends.

Your library lady and number one fan,


  1. I would love the hold system, except I'm not allowed, as it's a back seat conversation.

  2. The weather outside is still not great,but my computer is delightful because there is a new blog from you.

    Just when you have me thinking about The Bible and all the laws, you change your theme. This proves my point about the windmills of your mind.

    I love to read and your comments brought back those childhood trips to the library and the beginnings of my love affair with books.

    As Garrison Keeillor says "Librarians, Dusty, possess a vast store of politeness. These are people who get asked regularly the dumbest questions on God's green earth. These people tolerate every kind of crank and eccentric and mouth-breather there is.”

    As you pointed out,no place in any city is so totally democratic as the town library. There is only one requirement for entrance and that is the interest of the person who wants to read and learn.

    In closing, think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.

    Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy

  3. an open letter to an anonymous commenter:

    Dear Anonymous,
    I'm sad that it took me more than one comment to figure out who you were. By now it's so obvious that it actually embarrasses me that I didn't realize it immediately.

    Thanks for being a commenter and not just a lurking lurker. Comments validate my life almost as much as library patrons.

    You're no Mr. Darcy, but nice try.


  4. The library is the homeschooling mom's favorite place. I could go on and on about how much I love the library, but I'll just give you a glimpse by saying that I have about 75 library books checked out at any given time. Oh my goodness--the knowledge and the fun.... I only wish we had a sweet librarian friend to love us.

  5. i adore the hold system. i always wonder if librarians hate to see us coming since we check out 100 books at a time. we need to make another trip SOON.

  6. What are library, but pathways to follow what you want to know, to imagine.
    Somewhere in all those books, or on a computer screen, or in a paragraph at the the back of a magazine, there is the perfect sentence. It is the answer to your question. The words are all around you like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz.
    It takes you on a trip and you never have to go home again.
    The beautiful wonder of all those words.

    The Very Talented Tom Ripley, I always thought it would be better, to be a fake somebody... than a real nobody.

  7. I was giving an interview to a student the other day about poverty, and she asked me, "What is being done to fight poverty?" I listed a great many things that we as a society are doing, but near the top of my list was our commitment to public education and public libraries. The service you guys provide is so valuable to your patrons and to the whole nation. Even those who don't use the library are blessed by its existence in a community. When it comes to things our government gets right consistently, you guys are right up there with NPR, and that's high praise indeed. Just ask my favorite mid-western library, Mrs. Pupko, if you don't believe me.

  8. Is there anything so satisfying as helping a young person find just the right book that you just know he will love and then him loving it?


what do you think?