Thursday, November 1, 2007

What's in a Name?

Who uses libraries? Here in Ridgefield, we know that it is males and females, children and seniors, the techno-savvy and the traditionalist – in fact, every kind of person living in our community. But what should they be called? This is a matter of ongoing discussion in the profession, as libraries’ roles and relationships are redefined in a changing universe.

In Ridgefield, as in many locations, we have traditionally used the term “patron” for someone who partakes of library services. This has a gracious, almost old-fashioned sound – but it also creates some confusion, as it is in widespread use in other areas with other connotations, such as “patron of the arts.”

In an effort to be more modern, some libraries have opted for the word “user.” But for others this conjures up off-putting images of “love ‘em and leave ‘em” manipulators or even denizens of the drug underworld. “Customer” is another new trend, but others reject this term because of its implication of a commercial relationship.

“Friend” has a nice cordial feel to it. But in Ridgefield, as in many other towns, a “Friend” is specifically a member of a volunteer group organized in support of the library.

The word “member” brings a feeling of belonging, but it can give people the false impression that they have to pay to join and have access to what are actually free services.

“Borrower” and “cardholder” are other favorites. But these terms don’t recognize the fact that more and more people come to the library to do things other than check out books. “Visitor” seems to leave out the many individuals who access library resources online without coming into the building. How about “guest,” as Walt Disney hoped to call those who came to his new theme parks?

Whatever we call you, we are pleased to have so many take advantage of what we have to offer, each and every day.

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