Walking the Distance in the Customer’s Shoes

One Size Fits all

Let’s first look at the classic definitions of a library.  These definitions restrict the term to a collection of information resources which are kept for consideration and not for sale.  An examination of libraries will reveal some private and public have different characteristics.  A private library may include a personal home and some institutional libraries.  Public libraries could include everything from mobile units to educational structures.

Different libraries require different staffing, funding, and storage spaces.  A home library can be limited to a few books and no staff.  There is no dedicated fund for a large collection of electronic records stored in an ILS, collection development, computer programs, and staff.   You may find these in the public and institutional libraries.

Public and institutional libraries are defined by their communities and allotted funds from governments and/or the associated institutions.  Their staffing could consist of a driver for a possible bookmobile to staff with Phds at universities. Therefore, the classic definition of a library can be extended to include a place that holds a collection of information resources dedicated to a community.  Within a community there are diversified groups.

One group are people who do not have the time and are too busy to get to a library.  Today, there can be completely electronic libraries to allow these people to browse books on the shelves online.  The libraries may have minimum staff since the collection has been minimized to e-books which can be downloaded.

The second group are students that are required by their teachers to go to a conventional library to look for sources for a research paper.  This prevents students from consulting social media sites like Facebook or Wikipedia.  This interactive communication is not usually stored in a library and would not be the type of information the instructor is looking for.

The third group loves to luxuriate in the library enjoying conventional libraries which may have some computers, librarians, book cases, and quiet spaces.

This is not to say that you cannot have a combination of all 3 of these in one location.

Therefore, can it be stated that one size fits all?

Many Sizes Needed

During my investigation of one size fits all,  I  began to recall that when we group our customers into certain groups, one size does not fit all within that group. Then, I started to reexamine the question as to who is a librarian.  Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a librarian as “a person who works in a library… a specialist in the care or management of a library” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/librarian).

Over twenty years ago, in my first job as a librarian, I managed a bookless library collection as the Coordinator of the Study Room for People Visually Impaired at the University of Maryland in College Park.  This library collection contained Talking Book machines loaned to the library collection through the Library of Congress, The National Library Service (NLS), to assist the collection’s customers who were unable to read standard print material due to visual and/or physical impairments. The main media used on these machines were small audio tapes.  These tapes were the forerunners for the present-day e-books.

Other devices in this collection included braille materials.  The following were some of the items in the collection that I cared for and managed : VisualTek Closed Circuit Television Video (CCTV) magnifiers  which magnified printed text ;

TTYs (telephone typewriters) that permitted people with hearing disabilities to make and receive phone calls;

Kurzweil Reading Machine (http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/77/14/1/kleiner.pdf)  that used a flatbed scanner with optical character recognition software to convert printed text into synthesized speech for the user.

The library school did not teach me how to use these devices but in order to walk along with my customers, I taught myself how to use these devices.  In 1994, I took one step forward, when libraries were starting to use on-line catalogs, I became aware that my collection’s customers could have trouble seeing the print on the computer monitors. They needed a screen enlarger. Companies, in 1994, were selling screen enlargers at prices that started from $319 to $2,800.  I wanted to give my customers access to printed books by creating an inexpensive screen enlarger by using a coat hanger, a clothes pin (or paper clamp), a size 52 belt (velcro), and a magnification sheet (which can be obtained at an office supply store like Office Depot).   A screen enlarger could be in my customers’ possession for under $2 (https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr13/issue3/f130321.html).

Years later, when I became a children’s librarian, I found myself in another group.  To make the library more interesting for younger customers, I took the extra step of learning ventriloquism.   By using ventriloquism, I was able to communicate with the children in the library as I was able to show them how to find books that they wanted to read through various ventriloquist tools.  Sometimes the children would come just to see the puppets, but the majority of the time they wanted me to suggest books for them to read for different subjects.  The puppets would show them where to find those subjects.  After their experiences with the puppets, the children remembered where to find certain books without always asking me every time that they would come to the library.

No Limit

I feel that the training and skills of a librarian should not limit him or her to deal with stored information on any one media in a particular environment.  Professional librarians should rely on their training and skills coupled with acquired experiences to aid any customer to retrieve information from any media and in any environment.

Maybe, a librarian should not concentrate on whether he or she has a paper book collection, non-paper collection or special machines but become conscious of the needs of each group that might be encountered within the librarians’ present environment.  Such behavior is generic to the classic definition of a librarian as a person who cares and manages a library.  A library is simply “a collection of information resources which are kept for consideration and not for sale”.

Editor’s Note – this article first published in Computer Savviness – and republished with the author’s permission.


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