Changing Attitudes and Showing Value in the Library

In May I wrote a post about how the close of the academic year always feels like an ending. I think of Fall as a new beginning. Even more so than New Year’s, this season makes me optimistic about things to come. This year I have a lot to be grateful for!

After working for two years in a law school setting, I made the jump to working with the Court as the Boise Branch Librarian for the 9th Circuit. I’m running the library solo (with the support of all my new co-workers online to answer questions of course!). This is a significant change for me, because I’ve always worked in libraries with other people.  Today I wanted to share a few things I’ve done in my first month with the court to increase both the patronage and the value of the library.

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Changing Attitudes about the Library

I had a great discussion with a co-worker from GSA (Government Services Administration) last week. The first thing he said was that he thought libraries were only for books and that no one uses books anymore. This was not the first time I’d heard these words, so I quickly countered that libraries are for people, and I’m here to facilitate the conversation between the materials the library has and the patrons we serve. We got into a discussion about how different users view the role of libraries and how I personally view libraries. I consider myself not a gatekeeper of information, but rather a translator. I find the information you need and translate it into whatever format you need, whether that be a database, book, magazine, or a scrap of paper. The GSA co-worker left the discussion with a newfound appreciation of libraries and a promise that he’d visit again.

I forget sometimes that people who grew up in a different era, neighborhood, or state than I did view libraries differently than I do. I view libraries as community centers, not quiet places where books are stored. I have to make sure that as I’m trying to provide services I’m also trying to change opinions about what a library is and what my vision is for this library.

Ensuring Patrons Find the Library

I’ve also learned that you must be self-motivated to get patrons to come to you. Before, in a law school setting, I’ve always had a solid group of students who were in or around the library just because it was a place to study. I now must get judges, lawyers, and other court personnel interested and invested in the library when they aren’t familiar with our services. I’m slowly combating this lack of knowledge through marketing and targeted outreach. Because I can’t speak with everyone in person, I’m leaving library services flyers in boxes and on bulletin boards. I stop people with a smile in the halls and start talking up the library. I aim to tell at least one new person everyday about a library service they didn’t already know about. So far, this strategy is going well and I’ve seen a slight uptick in the number of daily visitors. I know that if I’ve gotten a patron to visit once I can get them to visit again. So it is my goal to make sure they come in that first time.

Providing Great Service

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The other way I ensure patrons return is by providing outstanding service. I am the only person in the library, so this can be both easy and challenging. I know that my approach to service is friendly and casual. I always make sure patrons leave with some answer to their question, even if it wasn’t the answer they wanted. Where I fall short is thinking of the research steps that come next for my patrons. Instead of sending them away with just the answer to their immediate question, I should be anticipating what they will ask next and how I can serve them better. For example, I had a law clerk come in today asking for jury instructions. I got the clerk exactly what they were looking for. But I should have also asked if they had any case law issues they may need help researching. Going the extra mile ensures patrons return because of the great service.

Overall, my transition to the courts has been fun and educational for both me and my patrons. I’m changing attitudes inside the building by demonstrating the value of a library collection and librarian. I’ve been welcomed to the circuit with open arms. Although I am working alone, it has never felt that way because of the outstanding support from everyone in 9th Circuit library family.

Editor’s Note: This article published with permission of the author with first publication on RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Posted in: Law Librarians, Legal Education, Legal Research, Legal Research Training, Library Marketing