Changing Public Perception One Patron at a Time

by Nicole Usiondek, former Head Editor, INALJ Michigan
previously published on 3/22/13

Changing Public Perception One Patron at a Time

nicoleusiondekLibraries 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.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 20.5 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 

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