Columns > Published on February 27th, 2019

Baby Come Back...To Your Library

Here’s the bittersweet relationship between the public and libraries: People like their libraries (sweet). They just don’t use them all that often (bitter).

Libraries and the general public are in a failing relationship. We still love each other, but damn, we aren’t making enough time for each other. We live in the same house, but the passion is gone. We barely feel like friends, let alone lovers.

How do we repair our flaccid relationship?

I’ve got ideas, some for libraries, some for library users. Because, hey, to make a relationship work, everyone needs to give a little.

Library Users: Turn Away From Book Porn

What if, instead of having hundreds of brief, review-related flings with books, you went back to a deeper intimacy with books by actually reading them? What if you decided to abstain from this or that list of the best 100 books in whatever category and just picked up a damn book?

Instead of looking at titles and covers and building up that giant to-read list, what if you just went to your library and looked around? Let serendipity be your guide?

Bring some of the excitement you have for books back into your library relationship instead of expelling that energy in a series of shallow encounters. Build something deep, intimate, and lasting.

Libraries: Cleanliness Counts

Clean the floors. Clean the carpets. Clean any fabric furniture you have, I’m begging you. Clean the bathrooms. I don’t care how often you do it now, it’s probably not enough.

I know a lot of us have lofty concerns about collections, digital resources, and so on, but come down to Earth for a minute and do a serious evaluation of your library’s cleanliness. Would you sit on any furniture in the building? Would you take any chair from the library, randomly selected, and have it in your home? If the answer is no, then don’t expect anyone to be pumped about using it.

You can fulfill the greater needs of your users, but you need to take care of the basics. Take pride in yourself by getting cleaned up for your beloved users.

Library Users: Date Night With the Library

I always thought designated date nights were stupid. Probably because my dad, in a last ditch effort to save his second marriage, went the date night route. It didn’t work. It spectacularly didn't work.

Now I get it.

First thing, date night probably isn’t a great tool to use in the final months of a failing marriage. It’s a tool you should be using as soon as you realize you’re not spending much time together.

Second, date night doesn’t have to be a fancy restaurant. It just has to be committed time to spend together. Time away from other distractions, other people, away from the stack of Amazing Spider-Man comics on the nightstand. That one is sorta me-specific. Your partner might be more excited to read about The Lizard fighting Stegron (Amazing Spider-Man #166, true believer!).

Set a date night with your library. How often? Well, the standard checkout period at your local library is a pretty good interval. Browse around. Sit and do some work at a library. Maybe go to a nice branch a little out of the way. Make the devoted date/time a priority and stick to it. Give yourselves the chance to remember what it is you like about each other.

Libraries: Radical Honesty

Put up a chart, tweets, whatever, outlining your quieter times, your busier times, the times people are most likely to be able to jump on a computer. Be honest. Hey, at 4 PM on a Monday, quiet isn’t going to happen. But at 10 AM on a Saturday?

All parties in a relationship are busy. Talk to your partner about the times that you’re better able to devote the attention they deserve.

Library Users: Dismantle Your Monument To Failure

Relationships are about sharing burdens. Lean on your library a little.

My brother and his wife call shelves of unread books “monuments to failure.” Your unread books’ only real purpose is to remind you of what you haven’t gotten around to.

Look through what you’ve got on your shelves at home. How many of the titles are available at your library? Great. Get rid of them. Let your library take on the burden of hoarding books. Trust me, they’re way better at it than you are.

Relationships are about sharing burdens. Lean on your library a little. Their shelves are sturdy. They can take it. 

Libraries: Embrace The Unexciting

Sometimes I feel like modern libraries are trying a little too hard to be radical, X-treme, and tubular. When I see library marketing materials, it reminds me of a 90’s Coke ad where, I don’t know, a grandpa takes his surfboard up a volcano so he can surf down the lava flow.

The message seems to be “This isn’t your grandpa’s library!” “Here’s how you library in a different way!” “If your grandma was as hip as the library, she probably wouldn’t have broken hers that one time!”

I’m going to give you a thought, and you should really think on it: Do people like the library because it’s cool and cutting edge, or is it something else?

Keeping up with the times is important. My message is that there’s room for growth, and there's also room for some of the same beloved library. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Just it possible that the thing people love about libraries has nothing to do with being the cat’s pajamas, cat’s meow, or any other cat thing that denotes coolness?

Library Users: Let's Get Goofy Together

One of the hallmarks of a great couple is that they’re okay being goofy together. Great partnerships bring out the unguarded, goofy side of people.

It’s alright to be goofy with your library. Request that bizarro book, ask them to buy anthropomorphic books, and if they don’t have any Chuck Tingle for you, by god, you tell them they're blowing it, big time.

We're cool. We won't mock your weird request. I once requested an interlibrary loan for a book entitled “boob.” On the cover was a man in a gold spandex suit. Do you think the library gave me a hard time? Hell no. I requested a comic about a male sex robot. Did the library come through for me? You bet it did. It came hard and fast.

Take that ultimate leap with your library. Get silly together.

Have some ideas of your own? Let us (and libraries) know in the comments.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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