by Nicole Usiondek, former Head Editor, INALJ Michigan
previously published on 3/22/13
Changing Public Perception One Patron at a Time
Libraries have worked hard to redefine themselves, and the public perception is the last lingering hurdle many libraries are facing. The perception of what a library is has made times bleak for some libraries, but not all. I was fortunate to be an employee of a library that, despite the current state of affairs, recently completed the construction of a new building.
The history of the library is encouraging. The library district was established in 1985, when several members of the community banded together and secured voter support to create public funding for a regional library. For twenty years the new community library shared space with the high school library. In 2006 the community library moved into 3,500 square feet of retail space in a shopping plaza. The dreams the community had for this library did not stop there. They began fundraising to build a new stand alone structure to house the library.
Last month that dream came to fruition. I was fortunate to be working the weekend after the soft opening of the library. The new space is beautiful, and has almost 12,000 square feet. It was so fulfilling to see the look on the patrons’ faces as they walked in the door and took in their new library. There was not a single complaint that weekend.
What was interesting to me was that I was able to meet a new patron who, according to him and his friend, had been opposed to the construction of a new building. In his words, “I thought libraries were obsolete and that no one used them anymore.” He spent almost two hours in the library and at the end of his visit he signed up for a library card and apologized for his opposition. He acknowledged that he had not realized how libraries were still relevant and how they had adopted technology and changed with the times.
It was an eye opening experience to me. As someone who works in the library field, it is always a shock when I encounter someone who thinks that libraries are book depositories. Libraries have become so much more than just a place to house books. It was also exciting for me to see that when someone is properly educated about the services a library provides, they quickly understand the value and embrace the many services.
I have yet to meet a librarian who wasn’t active in public outreach. It’s not just something librarians do while at work. Almost every time someone learns I am a librarian I have a conversation about how libraries embrace technology, how the field has evolved and all of the benefits the community receives from a library. People care, even if they are misinformed.
This experience has shown me that when populations understand the benefits of a library, they will spend years raising the funds to ensure that the library can flourish. It has also shown me that it is possible to change the public perception, even if it is one patron at a time.