Going Where Our Users Are

By Michael Stephens | Sadly, I didn't make it to ALA, so I am following along via blog posts and Flickr feeds. I hope everyone is having a wonderful conference!

Michael in his 'home office,' Mishawaka, Indiana, Panera Bread. I have been at my "mobile office": Panera Bread. I've spent a lot of time at my Mishawaka, Indiana, Panera: Updating the Roadshow with Jenny, working on the ALA L2 course, finishing my issue of Library Technology Reports, and writing my research proposal.

I was reminded this week, while sipping tea and watching folks come and go, of a post I did last year at TTW on a rather unique form of library outreach I had read about in the Biblioblogosphere.

I wrote: "This, my friends, is OUTREACH. This makes the librarian visible..the library visible...and provides a valuable service. I'd ponder this for sure if I was planning outreach services."
    "On Saturday, June 4, Daveman will be at Panera Bread in Clay on Route 31 from 8:00 - 10:00 AM. Using their wireless network and my tablet PC, I'll be answering any and all questions faster than you can spell focaccia. I can show you how to find articles from Consumer Reports and hundreds of other magazines for free. Enter the raffle for a tote bag full of Liverpool Library stuff. You can sign up for a library card, too.

    Grab a mug of the Costa Rican and see if you can stump the chump!"—From http://fulton.blogspot.com
Long before our discussions of Library 2.0, some folks were already going where the users are.  Librarian David Fulton at Liverpool Public Library in Liverpool, New York, was putting out his reference shingle at the local Panera Bread. I wondered – was he still doing it?

An e-mail yielded this response:

David writes: Yes, I try to do the Panera Bread program every month or so. Our library's budget vote is coming up in May so we're planning another outreach just before it happens. I still answer reference questions and do the card signup. We used to do a free raffle bag of library-related goodies, but almost no one signs up and the winners never claim their prize so we're discontinuing it.

This began an e-mail exchange I thought I might share with TechSource readers as an example of taking the library to the users. I asked what types of questions he answers:

DF: A woman was on her way to buy a range at Home Depot. I looked up Consumer Reports in our EBSCO database to help her decide. Someone else was traveling out of town next weekend and needed a weather forecast. I've also showed people how to access their library record and renew items online.

MS: I remember doing a little reference at Panera myself: a group at the table next to me were chatting and couldn't decide on the correct spelling of "haggis"—I was connected with my trusty PowerBook and was able to find the spelling—and some recipes! What's one of your favorite Panera reference tales?

DF: My favorite was the woman who couldn't decide whether to take her son to the zoo or the science museum. We checked the Web sites of for both places for their schedule of events along with the weather forecast. The zoo won. The boy had been pestering her that morning with questions like, "What road is this? Where does it go? Is this the road to the zoo? How long will it take us to get there?" I called up Google Earth and showed him satellite photos of the route they'd taken that morning, along with their house and the zoo. He was very impressed and drew me a picture showing a satellite orbiting the Earth.

People are often surprised to find us there and you should see the look on the face of a half-awake coffee junkie when you ask them if they have a library card. One man asked, "Do I need that to get coffee?"

I'm fascinated by this. It goes way beyond a folding table and some library brochures at some community day or garden show and puts the librarian, plugged in and able, where people are congregating. It makes sense: comfortable chairs, food, coffee, tea, conversation, and wifi access. I'd be interested to hear other examples of going where the users are.

Technorati tags: , , ,