Thursday, 8 June 2017

Day 8: Libraries aren't for everyone...

This post has been prompted by Kathryn's excellent post, "Are you THEIR librarian? G is for goat!" where she recounts a situation at a literary festival where nobody suggested "a librarian" when posed with the question of who they could go to for a book recommendation.

Obviously, it didn't occur to these people - perhaps they weren't library users, or they just didn't utilise the librarian at their local library. Maybe their experience of using the library was that the librarian was too busy doing librarian-y things to be burdened with their possibly-trivial question. Maybe there wasn't even a librarian around, as far as they could see, or didn't feel comfortable approaching the librarian at the desk.

The thing is, libraries aren't for everybody.

They may want to be, or try to be, but it's simply not possible. Imagine if every person in the community suddenly woke up tomorrow and decided to join their library, ask the librarian a question and / or borrow a book. Okay, that's an extreme example.

But even when I'm not being facetious, there are many people who don't use libraries.

People who don't think they need libraries.

People who aren't literate in the local language. (Even if the library holds collections in their language, they might not know they are there, or find the library, or ask for help, or know how to read the website - there's a limit to what Google Translate can achieve!)

People who don't feel welcome at the library because of their cultural background or level of education.

People who don't think the library would hold any books that are relevant to their interests.

People who can't afford to travel to the library, or have a disability that prevents them from being able to visit.

People who don't have a local residence or don't have sufficient identification to prove their local residence.

People who have a library fine from that one time that they borrowed a book and returned it late, and now can never borrow again because they can't afford to pay the fine.

People who would like to use the library, but it's never open at a time that's convenient for them.

The list goes on...

I posed the question - should libraries be focusing on serving the demands of their community, or the needs? Because there's a difference.

The unfortunate reality is that, as much as libraries would like to be for everybody, they generally only have the resources to meet demand - if that! And why would they risk losing the clients who are actually using the library by using resources in outreaching to those who need it more, but may or may not actually use it. Resources are often stretched tight enough already, and libraries need to be responsible in using their funds to develop collections that will be best used by their community.

I'm not sure where I'm going to go with this train of thought... I thought I could put a positive spin on it! Well, obviously the solution is, "Well, why can't libraries meet demand *and* reach out effectively to everybody else in the community who needs them?"

But, until that happens, libraries really aren't for everybody.