Ode to the Occasional Library User

Ode to the Occasional Library User

There are people who come into the library consistently every day or every week. We librarians can usually greet them by name when they enter. These power users are known to us because through chatting with them regularly, we get to know what’s happening in their lives. We also develop a solid sense of what they like to read or do at the library. Not unlike an episode of Cheers, there are plenty of these regulars at most libraries.

This is not an ode to them.

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This is an ode to you, occasional library user. You’re the one who visits us once a month, or once a year. Who knows where the library is, and who may have a friend who goes all the time. You’re the person who has a library card…somewhere.

You can’t remember exactly when you visited the library last, or why, but it was probably because your printer wasn’t working and you needed to print some boarding passes, or you had house guests with kids it was cheaper to select ten random movies from the library than raid the local Red Box, or maybe a friend of yours recommended a remarkable book but you lost the post-it with the title and author (and the librarian helped you find it). Or perhaps your kids needed to do some homework research and the info they needed wasn’t available online. Maybe you just happened to see the library and wander in. Because, why not?

Whatever you’re reason for visiting the library, I want to take this moment to say thank you! It is gratifying to know that when the need arose, you thought of your library.

You see, to libraries, your visit is the reason we can exist! Extremely rare are the organizations that can be sustained solely by their power users. If, for instance, the only people that bought iPhones were hardcore fans who stood in line for days, Apple would die a quick death.

Though libraries aren’t a business, we strive to provide a great return on the funding you give us, and boy do we. The return-on-investment for public libraries nationwide is incredible. For example, a January 2017 study by the Texas State Library showed that libraries in Texas returned “$4.64 for each dollar” of funding. These figures, however, are meaningless if no one visits the library. So thank you for joining us!

Another thing I love about occasional users is that you bring in with you a new perspective on our services. Library staff and power users can get comfortable with the way things are, so a fresh pair of eyes is a very useful way for us to see where we are succeeding and where we can improve. Focus groups and phone surveys are too time-consuming and expensive for most public libraries, so your comment card or email is one of the only forms of feedback we receive.

According to a 2016, Pew Research report, “…53% of Americans age 16 or older have had some interaction with a public library in the past year — either through an in-person visit, using a library website, or via a mobile app.” In the same report, it says that 77% if Americans say that public libraries “…provide them with the resources they need.” These two statistics highlight you, the occasional library user! While you may fit into the 53% that interacted with your library in the past year, you may just as well be part of the 24% of those surveyed that support libraries, but don’t use them regularly.

My point in writing this ode, friends, is to express my gratitude to you community-minded and selfless folks who love libraries regardless of the last time you visited. Occasional library users tend to be library supporters not for themselves, but for the good that libraries do for the entire community. When library tax measures come up on the ballot, you always vote yes. Why? Because libraries were there for you when you needed them, and you want them to remain a vital resource for others. I respect that.

In that vein, I have a small ask to make of you, occasional library user. EveryLibrary, an organization that supports libraries nationwide, is currently running a campaign to gather one million library supporters. All you have to do to help is “Like” their Facebook page. It’s a small, and simple way you can show your support for libraries without leaving your chair. I appreciate it, and once again, I thank you.