Libraries are for People

Anybody who works at a public library knows that we’re always trying to work on our image and to reach out to under-served populations. As a public resource, funded by public money, we kind of have an obligation to at least TRY to reach out to every segment of our population. Libraries are here for you TOO. Yes, YOU too. And even YOU. We’ve expanded our programs and collections to try and appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. All are good things! But it always brings up a point that really grinds my gears.

Whenever we talk about doing this kind of outreach and changing our image to the public, what is the image we’re trying to change? One image is that we’re “outdated”. But to whom are we outdated? The biggest user demographic at our library is the young mom, who checks out tons of stuff for her kids and brings them to all of our programs. We also have seniors who use us quite a bit, to check out books and to attend all of our computer classes and iPad demos and for us to show them how to use Overdrive. We get TONS of kids and teens every afternoon and weekend using our building as a safe place to hang out with their friends, do their homework and play games. And we also have people who use us because they can’t afford to have internet at their house, or to print off things or would like a place to be where they don’t have to buy something. All of these people do not think we’re outdated but we have this idea that “everyone” thinks we’re obsolete. What this is actually telling me is that we don’t think any of these people MATTER.

Who is left out of this scenario? From a marketer’s perspective, the biggest and best demographic there is: Middle Class Males, ages 18 – 35. Lots of library marketing is focused on getting that group into the library and using the resources. Why? Like I said earlier, as a publicly funded resource, we’re always trying to appeal to the entire community and Middle Class Males, ages 18 – 35 make up a pretty good chunk of that population. But why do we act like if THEY don’t think we’re useful then NOBODY does? What I hear is that you consider all of the people who do use the library regularly (moms, kids, seniors, low-income people) are nobodies. Who CARES if THEY use the library, the people who MATTER don’t use it.

Would it be so terrible if the library was only used by these groups of people? Middle Class Males, ages 18 – 35 already occupy space in every other element of the universe, is it the world’s most important thing to make sure that they are also the library’s biggest demographic instead of young moms? Or seniors? Or low-income patrons? Instead of asking why libraries aren’t catering to the desires of these Bros, maybe we should be asking why these Bros don’t feel the need to support something they don’t use themselves? Or why they think something that’s used by moms, kids, low-income community members and seniors is such a waste of time and money.

I don’t think we should stop trying to bring more people into the library. And I don’t think we should exclude these Bros or stop marketing to them. The Library is for them as well, whether they know it or not. But we shouldn’t forget all of the people who do use the library NOW. They’re not nobodies.

PS: If you know a Bro who doesn’t think the public library is worth anything, maybe you should forward him this blog post by author John Scalzi, where he describes why he supports public libraries even if he doesn’t NEED to use them anymore.

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  1. That target demographic doesn’t use the public library or see the value of the the library and we’re seeing the repercussions of that right now – to generalize, those Middle Class Males, ages 18 – 35, vote and follow-though on their promises to call politicians or write checks of support. All library users matter, of course, but everyone who uses the public library needs to start *advocating* on behalf of the public library or vilifying “Bros” is just going to be a waste of time. I propose the question is how do we get public library users to care enough to advocate and agitate for libraries, to spend the political capital they *do* have on our behalf?

    1. I GET why we do it and I’m totally for marketing to the dudes. We want everyone to know the library is for them. I thought I made that clear more than once. I’m talking more about our general attitude as a society about who we think is most important. If those dudes who didn’t use the library thought moms and low-income people and seniors were important they wouldn’t be voting against something that is so vital to those demographics.

      I’m mostly just annoyed that in order for anything to be considered a success it has to be important to that ONE demographic. It’s not just a library problem, it’s an everything problem.

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