There are many articles and information on enhancing the modern library to continue to develop the experience for library visitors and surrounding communities. This, of course, is an extremely important aspect to continue to do as it is important to hear from library users to identify what can be improved or added to the library and its’ services. However, it is also extremely important to understand what the barriers are for those who do not visit libraries and do not use the variety of services libraries have to offer.
To help shed some light on this topic, we have interviewed a self-proclaimed library non-user to identify some of the thought processes and barriers that non-users face and think of, that prevent them from being an active library user. To better understand the context of this interview, let us firstly introduce the person we spoke with.
About the non-user:
Name: Don F.
Education: Red Seal HVAC Mechanic
Occupation: HVAC Mechanic – Heating, Cooling and Ventilation.
From: Winnipeg, Canada
Resides: Berlin, Germany
Question (Q): Why would you say the library intimidates you?
Answer (A): First and foremost, I would say that not being a strong reader definitely plays a part in it. I wouldn’t say the library intimidates me, but it makes me feel out of place because I am not an avid book reader or currently studying. My mindset is that you should be at library only if you are reading, studying or there for a specific purpose (program, service). I understand that this is definitely not an accurate assessment, but it is my honest reason for why I don’t use the library more. I know that I need to switch my thinking to recognize that people can go to the library to do other things such as explore, grow and even for entertainment. Occasionally, I notice that modern libraries are promoting these features or services on their social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and I think that is a great idea.
Staff of the @GrundyLibrary invite library users and non-users to complete a survey about the direction the library will take in its future years – entries received by May 5 are eligible to win a $100 VISA gift card https://t.co/sMv7eRu4gX
— Bristol Times (@TheBristolTimes) April 22, 2019
Q: What are your first thoughts when you think of a library?
A: I think about the collection of books and all the different genres of books I would like to read. Sometimes, I even think about attempting to write something myself, not a book per say but just writing down my thoughts and ideas in a story form. I also think of libraries as places where amazing stories are held. This could be stories about legendary people or imaginative non-fiction stories. I very much associate libraries with books, it is the first thing I think of.
Q: Are you or have you ever been an avid user of libraries? Why or Why not?
A: I have not been. I am not specifically sure why, other than what I previously stated, that I don’t make time to read as much as I probably should. When I do read a book, I tend to borrow books from my family or friends. I don’t really know what else a library could do for me. To explain this thought further, I am aware that libraries offer great resources and services, but I am not sure about the details. For example, if there was an art class being offered at my local library, I would be interested in attending but I start asking myself questions such as do I need to sign up? Pay? Be an artist? Commit to classes? I know these questions sound simple and are easy to find the answer to, but these are the honest questions I ask myself when deciding. And because I do not know the answers and I do not feel like a consistent library user these uncertainties prevent me from going or using a library service.
Q: In your opinion, do you think there is a perception of being a library member?
A: Yes, a positive perception. There are a lot of creative inspiration inside the library walls. In my opinion, I would say library members are people who have taken steps to actively keep learning by becoming a member of a place where there is a lot of resources that can help people solve problems and grow their knowledge.
Q: What feedback do you have for libraries?
A: In my experience, I would say many libraries appear to be old and kind of dungy. I believe that they need a “face lift” to more modern times. This does not have to be an expensive overhaul of the library, but my suggestion would be to make the library appear more welcoming and to promote all the services that they have to offer more clearly and consistently.
Identifying the target market for @KarynS #library marketing plan came through analyzing the non-user survey for those who do not use libraries as they do not know what services offered – it was men 55yrs & over #APLIC18
— Jane Cowell (@janecowell8) July 31, 2018
Q: In your opinion do you think libraries express their resources and strengths to the public in an effective manner? What suggestions would you have for libraries to help them improve?
A: I have completed my education and I am currently working full-time. So, in my situation, I would say that I really do not hear much about what is happening or being put on at libraries. I think they need to create more buzz around themselves. There is a YouTube channel I like to watch called the Tiny desk concert. They bring bands into a library environment and create a different energy through music. Events like this could bring people who never thought about being in a library, young or old, to maybe pick up a book, use library services and get hooked.
Q: Final thoughts on library?
A: I believe that libraries can only do so much, and ultimately it is up to the individual to make the effort to get themselves to the library. However, as I mentioned, to help motivate myself or other individuals I think it is important for libraries to actively keep things fresh and interesting and people will come.
— Jim Bennett (@JSSBennett) June 28, 2017
Breaking It Down
Having insights from one library non-user is helpful but it does not speak for all non-users. Of course, gathering more information in this area is likely to suggest other barriers or perhaps conflicting ones.
However, it is a starting point for libraries. It gives them an insight into thought processes of some community members and shows them what these people may be facing or what they may be feeling that is preventing them from being an active library member and hopefully a library advocate one day.
From what we have read, here are some areas worth of highlighting. It would appear that making a conscious effort to communicate and promote the amazing things happening at libraries is important for raising awareness. The more information people can gather from a social media posts, websites or newsletter could help lead to increased attendance or interaction with the library. These actions could also help with educating people on the wide variety of resources and services libraries have to offer and that it is not just a house of books.
Finally, an important takeaway for library professionals is making sure your library is presenting well. Meaning, is your library “giving off” a welcoming and inviting look. It is important to try and match the outside decor of the library with the inside atmosphere of libraries (safe, happy and supportive) to the best of the resources available for that specific library.