Patrons: Across the Desk and Across the Board

Whether a librarian works in a medical, public, special, law or academic library, the librarian’s role is the same: to provide unbiased access of information to a population. Another constant: the patron.

I myself have worked in an academic library and a public library that were only an hour apart. For this reason, many patrons visited both libraries. And it’s become clear to me that person is still the same individual whether they are placed within a large research university or in the public library of a small rural town. And many of the questions they ask are the same, regardless of the type of library.

Navigating the library’s website; conducting research; accessing hard and virtual materials; receiving a library card; printing; interlibrary loans; most librarians in most types of libraries deal with these issues no matter the budget, collection size, or patron base of any facility. If a patron is unfamiliar with a library’s layout or too intimidated to ask questions, it makes no difference whatsoever whether that patron holds a Ph.D. or a GED, or if the library is public or academic.

There are of course differences when it comes to expectations of the institution itself upon the librarians employed and the resources made available. However, it is debatable whether the patrons notice.

In this Google-dominated era of information acquisition, information seekers are accustomed to uniformity in their at-home searches. As a result, they may come to expect uniformity of access in the library, undermining any sense of the differences in roles between different types of libraries. Perhaps librarians should follow suit, and see what they can learn not only from their counterparts in different library types, but from the different library types themselves.