Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

What Should We Call Them?

Every academic librarian has their own personal preference for what to call them. At a library I once worked at one of the other librarians called them “readers.” Well, readers is probably less descriptive of the people who come into our libraries these days – it may have worked well in the fifties but now I’m not so sure. What I do know is that we sometimes struggle to find a good term or phrase to describe the folks who use our libraries. I have tended to call them “users” or “my user community”. According to Don Norman, design expert, I may need to find another word to describe them. In an essay titled “Words Matter” Norman states that we depersonalize the people we serve by calling “user”. In fact, it is derogatory. He doesn’t like custormers or consumers either. I think we agree on that. So what should we call them? Norman says we should just call them people. He says we’re people, we create system for people, and resolve the needs of people – so why not just call them people. Or do we call them library people. I will have to give this some thought. To me, saying my “user community” just sounds a whole lot better than “my people”.

No Technology Replaces Critical Thinking

I recommend you read this brief essay by John Stuckey, an Associate Editor of Ubiquity. It resonated with me because I too worry that we sometimes feel pressured to jump on technology bandwagons for fear of having users desert us if we hesitate. In his essay “Critical Thinking for the Google Generation” Stuckey focuses on a similar issues; faculty fears about being left behind or left out if they don’t incorporate technology into the teaching and learning process. He’s not opposed to teaching technologies. He says used correctly it can enrich and strengthen education. In coming to the conclusion that we do our students more harm than good when we pander to their desires for “digital dessert and candy” in order to keep them pacified he says:

  • …they still require education in learning how to ask the difficult questions that most likely have no simple answers. That is what critical thinking requires.
  • We owe it to them to explain the differences among a Google search, a literature search, and research.
  • Good education is still hard work and not usually glamorous.
  • So while it is no doubt easier to convince ourselves that we are doing good things for our students when we give them Google-like search boxes on the library’s home page – and tell ourselves that by making it all easy for them there will be no need for user education, I think we are perhaps taking shortcuts to avoid that hard work Stuckey speaks of and as a result we do a disservice to those we are here to help.

    Meet An ACRLog Blogger At ALA

    I don’t expect that to be the highlight of anyone’s conference experience but just in case you are at the conference and would like to share your thoughts about the blog, make some suggestions, or whatever a good time to reach me is on Saturday afternoon (6/24) in the exhibit hall. More specifically I’ll be at the ACRL booth between 4 and 5 pm. I hope you stop by to say hello.

    Be An ACRLog Blogger At ALA

    Maybe you’d rather be a blogger than meet a blogger at ALA. Thanks to those who responded to our call for bloggers, but there are plenty of ACRL programs to go around and we could still use some additional bloggers. It’s easy. Just take some notes, write it up, and send it in. It’s not too late to get in touch. Even if you don’t contact us in advance, if you decide to send in some notes after the conference that’s fine with us.

    3 thoughts on “Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

    1. In regards to “What Should We Call Them?” I tend to prefer the word “patron.” I like the fact that “patron” implies more of an interactive, two-way relationship. Some libraries use the term “customer,” but I would like to believe that libraries (and all that they represent) are not the same as getting a latte at Starbucks. While I do think that librarians should be embracing some of the same advertising and marketing tactics that for-profit corporations use to gain customers, I don’t think it is necessary to explicitly extend that term to the librarian-patron/user/person interaction.

      The term “patron” also can be applied contextually to reinforce the notion that libraries are usually supported by those individuals who patronize these institutions, much like being a patron of the arts; or perhaps, even more interestingly, something akin to being a patron of the French intellectual salons of the 18th and 19th centuries.

    2. I call them “boss.” They are employing me as their info-guru. For such employment, I am most grateful.

    3. In regards to the single search box:

      I think it is important that we make the information we store easier to find. There is nothing wrong with federated searches. However, this will not negate our need to teach, as you say. There will always be a real need for us to teach research skills. The real research skills that we often do not have time to teach because we are too busy helping people learn how to use the faulty tools we have buit.

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