Sunday Reflections: At Least They’re Coming to the Library ISN’T Always the Right Idea
Yesterday 95 people came into my library asking about solar eclipse glasses. The day before it was 75. I wasn’t there either day, but the Circulation staff started keeping track. That’s 170 people who came into the library and walked away empty handed. That’s a lot of negative experiences for patrons and staff both.
We did have solar eclipse glasses. We gave out roughly 1,000 pairs beginning on August 14th, first come first served while supplies last. They were gone in less than an hour. And yet all week long they read online or heard from their friends that they could go to the library to get solar eclipse glasses. The media kept pushing the narrative that you could get solar eclipse at the library, and many libraries have been struggling this week with this very same scenario.
I’ve seen several of my fellow librarians comment that well at least they’re coming into the library. But I maintain that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, they’re coming into the library, but many of them are leaving empty handed and upset and this is a bad thing. In their mind, we failed to deliver this one time they finally came to us for something and for many people, they won’t be coming back. They came to us, we failed to deliver, and now we’ve broken trust.
This is not the first time something like this has happened to libraries. We are often a victim of the infamous “They”. It goes something like this.
Patron: They said that you have x, y or z.
Staff: I’m sorry, but we don’t have that.
Patron: But THEY said you did, that I could get it at the local public library.
Staff: Well, THEY don’t work here, and I’m sorry but we don’t have that. (We don’t really say this, we just think it in our head. We always do our best to try and satisfy the patron or re-direct them to someone who can genuinely help them.)
We can try and offer an alternative solution. For example, we can have a handout prepared with solar eclipse information and a DIY tutorial for making your own solar eclipse glasses. But for those people who want solar eclipse glasses and want them now, this will not be a way to satisfy them. We’ll do our best, as we always do. But the truth is, for some people this is the first time they have come to us for something and we have failed them. They’re not coming back. And that’s too bad. Because we have lots to offer, but it can be hard to come back from a negative experience.
We can’t always control the narrative, unfortunately. Though we need to work really hard to do so. But this is another one of those moments when forces outside of the library put the library in a really unfortunate position. The solar eclipse is tomorrow, and patrons will stop coming in and asking for eclipse glasses. But I hope they keep coming in and asking for things we can provide for them, because we have lots to offer and we work hard at it.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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