Do you love the library, but still see areas where you think it could improve? There are ways to make that happen! Read on to learn how you can improve several specific areas in your library.
Find the books you are looking for.
Many library users have commented on this blog that their library routinely does not have the titles they wish to borrow, especially in terms of new releases. On the one hand, this may be because of budget cuts. Libraries in the U.S. routinely face challenges to their usefulness in the modern world, and thus are underfunded by state and local governments. In these cases, simply buying fewer books is one way libraries deal with reduced funding because it is a budget cut that not many people will register. Shorter hours? Reduced staff? The community will likely notice and complain (but to the librarians, not their representatives). Fewer books? People who do not avidly follow the book market and are thus are not looking for specific titles will probably not realize anything is missing. If a library is consistently underfunded, the reality is that, for a better user experience, library patrons will have to write to their representatives, and they will show up to vote for ones who support libraries and vote out ones who do not. They will also have to accept that giving the library more money might result in higher taxes.
However, many people may not want to contact their representatives, or pay more taxes. In this case, they may want to focus, not on improving the collection as a whole, but simply on getting access to the specific titles they seek. To do this, one merely have to put in a purchase request. Libraries have processes in place for this. Usually it entails nothing more than filling out an online form or going up to the desk and telling the staff member on duty that one wishes the library to purchase a specific item. The staff member may then ask for the required information or hand out a form. Because of budget constraints, libraries typically have policies about what they can and cannot buy, but any recently published title that does not seem too niche will likely have a fair chance of being purchased. It’s really that easy!
See the types of programs you enjoy.
Many library users have great ideas about the types of programs and services they would love the library to offer. Why doesn’t the library offer these? It might, again, be because of budget constraints or merely because of a lack of staff interest. However, it may also be because library staff do not always know what the public is seeking. Sometimes, things that may seem very obvious to library users are not obvious to the people who work behind the desk. They just have a different perspective. So waiting for a staff member to get the same idea is not necessarily going to be an effective strategy.
Just like libraries have ways for users to suggest book purchases, they also typically have ways for patrons to suggest other areas for improvement. It might be an online form for program ideas. It might be a survey sent out periodically to library patrons. It might a suggestion box sitting on a table. Whatever the process is, use it! Libraries are always trying to get their usage numbers up, so if people directly tell them they would love to use a specific service or attend a certain type of program, they are likely going to take that information seriously.
The follow-up to this is, of course, that if the library does implement the ideas suggested, people need to show up. If the library sees low or declining attendance or usage numbers, they are going to conclude that certain services are not worth the time and money invested in them, no matter how good the idea seemed in theory.
Get better customer service.
We love libraries here at Pages Unbound, but we have our fair share of library horror stories, just as presumably many others do. Sometimes, a staff member may refuse to help, or simply be so ungracious and grumpy that one feels almost sorry to have asked for assistance in the first place. Sometimes, a staff member may simply give wrong information, no matter how many times you try to provide them with the details of what you are looking for. There are various options here: going to a different desk to check with a different staff member, for instance, or maybe even asking to speak to a manager.
However, if confrontation is not your style, consider going the opposite route. Instead of critiquing negative customer service experiences, praise the positive ones. Leave a glowing review in the comment box (with the staff member’s name, if possible). Or ask to speak to the manager so you can give your praise in person. (You should probably clarify that you are not asking for the manager to leave a complaint!) Let the library know that you recognize and appreciate good service. Hopefully, this will lead to a culture where excellent service is rewarded and poor service is improved.
Have longer hours.
Many library users wish their libraries were open later, earlier, or on weekends. Sadly, many libraries have reduced their hours because of budget cuts. They simply do not have the money to pay staff to be there! So library patrons who want more library hours will be more effective in gaining this, not by complaining to library staff (who likely are already aware that they are underfunded, but cannot do much about it), but by writing to their representatives and requesting that they support libraries financially.
To advocate effectively, patrons should be aware of how precisely libraries are funded. Many people assume that the federal government in the U.S. provides money to public libraries, but libraries are actually usually supported by a combination of state and local taxes. Writing to local representatives in support of libraries and turning out to vote in local elections for candidates who support libraries will likely have the largest impact on library funding. Of course, however, funding libraries sometimes might mean paying more in taxes. Communities will have to decide how much they are willing to invest in better libraries.
Library patrons have more power over the functioning of the library than they may realize. The library exists to serve the community, so library staff tend to take patron suggestions seriously. And oftentimes, the people behind the desk see the library differently, and may forget what it is like to experience the library as a patron. They might need to be informed of what services the public desires because, otherwise, they will likely assume that no feedback equals satisfaction.
Sometimes change is as simple as filling out a form, but many people either do not realize this, or simply hope that someone else will do it instead. But if you can think of changes you would like to see, don’t wait! Talk to library staff! Fill out the surveys! You can even show up to a library board meeting and make your case. (The library board controls the budget, so typically has influence over large-scale changes such as staffing issues and library hours.) The important thing is that being proactive about something you care about will help you see the changes you want much more quickly than doing nothing.