If You Build It/Lead a Horse to It

I’m attempting to get some posts out of “draft” status. Here is one I started a few weeks ago.

I found an essay at LISNews written by librarian, Abigail Goben, regarding the needs of patrons between the ages of 20-40. Goben posits that libraries, while doing an admirable job finding new and exciting ways to reach out to teens and children, have neglected patrons who fall into the post-college (and possibly pre-family) category. Intriguing but who are these patrons? What do they want? If libraries expand hours, staff, and programming (let’s assume that there isn’t an economic crisis and that the coolest, most talented librarian ever is doing the program planning ), will that make mid-20 somethings more likely to walk in the door and stay an hour and a half?

To find answers, I started with the most authoritative source I know: me. Indeed, the patron Goben describes IS me. While reading her essay, I was all nods. In fact, I was one click away from my library’s program website before the thought struck me: “I can barely make time to run inside to pick up my holds, how will I make time to attend programs?” OK, granted, I’m probably not the most representative example of persons of this age group. I work 60 hours a week in addition to trying to keep a new film company afloat. My husband and I share one car, so physically getting to the library is a bit of a challege at times. On the other hand, I wasn’t always this busy. Even when I had my own car, worked a normal 40 hour week and didn’t have a film production company diverting my attention, I still didn’t attend library programming. Is that the library’s fault? Absolutely not. MCPL DOES have programming that interests me, good collections and services, and hours that suit me. I simply didn’t make the time, then or now. Are all of us 20 and 30-somethings too busy with Life? Has Evil Technology destroyed our ability to interact with one another and sit still for ten minutes without Tweeting or checking Facebook? Was all of the wonder and curiosity which we possessed back in college stamped out of us by the big, mean Real World? Surely not. Attending such programming simply isn’t a priority for me.

I’m curious what others of this demographic think. Are you interested in on-site programs at your public library? Is your library offering such programs? Do you attend them? Why or why not?

The expectations of library service held by 20-30 somethings, to my knowledge, hasn’t been studied much. I applaud Goben for putting this concern on the radar. Check out her blog for more smart writing.

Oh, and yes, I can pay my fines online– and yes, I’m feeling rather smug about it.

3 replies on “If You Build It/Lead a Horse to It”

Well, I’d fall into the demographic too. And I don’t even have the excuse of waiting until I have a kid who’s going to storytime–I have said child but realized when I was at the library for the board meeting Tuesday that I hadn’t yet taken her to the library, at least not since she was an infant. And she’s two and a half. This seems like a gross oversight on my part. We will have to remedy that soon.

I have just realized, also, that I have no idea what programs our local library offers. That’s not really the library’s fault, though; I have to take some initiative there, and I haven’t. That’s for a couple of reasons, neither of them terribly wonderful excuses. One: I’ve just gotten stuck in the usual routine and not thought to look at things that might break it. Two: My perception, at least, is that “programs” means “going to some sort of group activity with a bunch of people I don’t know”, which frankly makes me incredibly anxious. I know I complain about not getting out of the house sometimes, but I kind of want to do that in solitary fashion or with a couple of friends, not with random strangers. (I am aware of what a silly excuse this is. I know most people probably get a little nervous in situations like that, and they go anyway. Still.)

I don’t know what to suggest the library do about people like me who just haven’t made the time for library programs. I’m not sure if there’s anything that *can* be done. If we don’t take the initiative — well, you can lead a horse to water and all. The only thing I can think of right now is to try to get word-of-mouth spread, get people who are not necessarily related with the library (or, OK, the specific library under discussion) to blog about it and talk to their friends and such. Ads and announcements from the library itself, my brain files as “advertising” and thus pays very little attention to. A blog post from a friend, though, has now got me thinking I need to go see what programs are offered, or at the very least see if I couldn’t fit regular library time (other than MCCT board meetings, which hardly count) into my schedule. Maybe it’s just me–but personally, discussion in the community does way more to get me interested in things like this than communications directly from the people running the events. Of course, it’s also more difficult to get going and more difficult to control once it’s in motion, among other problems I’m sure…


And having gone and taken a closer look at the programs: Er. Honestly, there’s not much there that’s drawing me in. I don’t need tax or legal or job search help, the book currently under discussion doesn’t interest me, some of the lectures sound interesting but not enough that I feel I need to make time for them. (Some of the teen stuff actually sounds more interesting, but I’m not a teen by any stretch of the imagination.) The computer classes are all way below the level I’m already at. Even the children’s programs are mostly out of the question; Natalie’s the wrong age for many, and most of those remaining are either during the day on weekdays when I’m at work or during her naptime.

I guess I kind of feel like this stuff just isn’t being aimed at me, but… Is that because my demographic isn’t being addressed, or because my tastes and schedule are weird? (Although that does beg the question, “What exactly *is* weird in Bloomington?”) I mean, you can’t please everyone all the time, I guess. I don’t know.


I guess I’ve been in the remote phase of interacting with libraries longer than most people. Because I’m blind, (um, obviously I know you know, but for anyone who stumbles on the comment), all of my books arrived by mail. I never had the experience of browsing a library, taking books down and skimming them and putting them back. Instead, I would decide whether I wanted a book or not by its title and the little LOC anotation, and then it was in my room, whether I wanted to read it or not. I interacted with the children’s librarian quite a bit over the phone. She graciously helped me until she retired, even though I was no longer a child. But then, I never found out who I was supposed to talk to at the library after she was gone. No adult librarian made an effort to let me know. And I use their online feature. So I don’t interact with librarians at all anymore. Whose fault is it? I don’t know. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more cynical about the groupy events the library has. I just feel weird hanging out with people I don’t know. It might even be a little snobby of me, but shyness certainly plays a big part in it too. But if I have a child, I wonder what my role and responsibility will be in shaping his or her future as a social being. Should we go to the library, not just read books at home?
The only time I’ve been intrigued by the library as an adult was when the Princeton Public Library got Chinua Achebe to come and talk. Obviously that was a very packed audience. But after that, did I go and read up on other events? Did I get involved? Negative.


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