I was fortunate enough to attend Internet Librarian International today and listened to R D Lankes recorded talk on 'Stop Lending, Start Sharing'. One of the points that he made in this talk, and which he has made in others, is that the people who use the library are 'members' rather than 'patrons', 'clients', 'customers' or 'users'. He didn't mention 'owners' but I added that in myself for good measure. This provoked a lot of interesting discussion, with tweets flying around the room during the talk. Here's a selection:
Personally, I like the term 'member'. It implies that the library (of whatever brand or style) is something that can be joined, and that a commitment to it can be made. It says to me that someone views a library as something that they can be involved with, and can affect what it does, and how it does it. That they are able to have a conversation with the library staff in a collaborative mode. I don't view it as being exclusive or elitist, though I can see where people are coming from when they say that. However, some libraries are exclusive - you have to be a certain type of person (student, employee etc) before you can use it, and there's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it is.
How about 'user' then? Should we as librarians just be putting stuff out there for people to use? Isn't that what we do? Well yes, but equally, shouldn't the people we work with have some say in what that stuff is? Shouldn't they be working in conjunction with information staff to work out how the librarians/library can help them achieve stuff, and to promote and better the community? So yes, they do use materials, but that's only part of a much larger interaction. I don't find 'user' as inclusive as 'member'.
Patron then? It's an American term. I'm British. Enough said on that. :)
Client? I have clients - they're the people that I work for, and I pretty much do what they want, because they're paying me. So, if you take the view that you pay your taxes ultimately the library staff answer to you. However, the necessary element of shared interaction doesn't quite work in the same way that a 'member' does. It implies a very strong hierarchical approach, with the library staff running around doing exactly as they are told, pat on the head now go away again idea.
Customer. I take my custom to a shop, purchase a product and leave. Moreover, with the new self service tills, I can do that without any real interaction with the shop. If I don't like the range of goods that are available, not much that I can do about it. Of course, the transaction doesn't have to be financial, but there is still that element of 'trade' which doesn't work for me. There shouldn't be a trade off, there should be collaboration.
Owner. This is an interesting one - if you have students at a university who are paying large sums of money, there is an entirely different dynamic going on there. Should it be acceptable that - for whatever reason - there's 30 in a class and only 4 text books available? Should they have specific rights based on the transaction of money? Are the students in some way owners of the library and indeed in part, of the university itself? However, as an owner, they should be also in a position to exert specific pressure, which in a library setting probably is entirely unrealistic. Also, we come back again to the interaction between the people who come into the library and the people who work in the library. Should this interaction be based on a power dynamic? I don't think it should - it should be based on a dynamic of collaboration, each side helping the other. That isn't ownership in the way that I view it.
So - 'member' works for me. I accept that it doesn't for other people, and that's absolutely fine, if you're happy with it. So let me turn the tables a bit - what doesn't work for YOU about the term 'member' (presuming it doesn't - it may well do!) What works better, and what transaction is implied for you between the member/user/etc and the library staff that's dependent or defined by the term you prefer?