Library: patrons or customers? … I like – Members


Not: patrons….. Not: customers……. Members. 

The credit for this idea belongs to Joan Frye Williams: 

I attended a public library presentation recently where Joan presented a half day seminar. Joan did a wonderful job helping us to think about libraries in some new ways. She discussed a survey she did that tried to communicate how users of a public library would like to be identified. The survey winner: members.  I think that is perfect.

The old fashioned term “patron” seems just that…old fashioned. I have always liked the term “customer”. Customer conveys a more specific “service” provider and receiver relationship. But I must say….”member” gets it even more right. Member implies “a person” who is a part of the community. The term is more friendly, more personal, more warm and more engaged. A member might be: a family member, a school member, a church member, a local community member….. or all of those. You get the picture. I especially like the idea that “member” conveys a sense of “belonging”. Isn’t that exactly what we hope happens to all those people who enter our doors, or use our services… that they feel a sense of belonging?

The term member also conveys a sense of relationship. No longer a top down, us vs. them. A member is more of an equal, a part of the team. A member has a stake in the process and the outcome. A member has ideas, thoughts and wishes that need to be taken into consideration. A member gets to contribute.

So I move we abolish the term “patron” and even “customer” from our language and written communication. We are all “members” of our local and even the larger…library community as a whole. Thanks Joan!


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