« Giffgaff - how stupid are they? | Main | ProCog - Transparent Search Engine »

October 30, 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Simon Chamberlain

Member works for me for public libraries (speaking as a member, rather than a librarian in this context).

Not sure it fits perfectly in academic libraries, and doesn't really fit special libraries at all. I'd think of "clients" in the context of my law firm (though maybe "colleague" would work better, and might get us more respect).

Someone on Twitter suggested "community", which I like for public libraries.


I tend to find the word "member" does imply a certain degree of exclusivity in my mind. To me it divides people up into "members" and "non-members". It leads to "I'm not a member of the library" which might imply that use of the library is therefore reliant on "membership" (which, of course, it isn't). Furthermore, "member" implies (for me anyway) that there is a membership process that individuals need to go through in order to become a "member". Obviously there is a process for joining the library, but "applying for membership" makes the process seem more cumbersome somehow (although maybe you wouldn't apply "member" terminology to this process?).

However, I do like the idea that libraries are at one with the individual that uses them. I'm not comfortable with the term "customer" (although I have used it from time to time - perhaps as a result of my background in retail...it's a hard habit to shake!), it implies a fairly limited degree of interaction. I personally believe that those that use the library should own the service as much as those providing the service. In broader terms I am quite interested in the idea of handing over certain levers of control of the service over to those that utilise the service, and customer doesn't really fit here. The closest I can think of is stakeholder but that doesn't really feel right either (and is too clunky in my view). "Owner" is interesting in this regard, but still implies there are those that don't 'own' the service (a tricky concept for public libraries and taxpayers!). "Partners" maybe?

My preferred option? 'Users'. I still don't like it, but it's the one I feel most comfortable with. But I'm certainly open to alternatives :)

Sheila Thomas (@Speranda)

Speaking here from a special library. We have people accessing our information services who are members, but they are members of the institute that owns and runs the library, not of the library itself. We help members, staff and, to a small degree, the general public. So we cannot apply the label "member" to designate any information service (including library) user. We do not have a collective term to cover our three user types, and I do not think we need one.

David Kerry

I prefer the term "reader" to over everyone who comes in to use the library's resources, including those who have no membership status. Students and staff of the college have borrowing and other rights through their student or staff status, we have various grades of fee-paying external members with borrowing rights, and others who are not members in any proper sense occasionally visit the library on a reference-only basis. They are all read, but the last group are not members. I find "user", "customer" and "client" all sound too ugly and clumsy, with the latter two a little inaccurate, and "patron" relies too much on the American meaning of the word.

Diana Nutting

Except for the dreadful patrons (I never wanted to be patronised at work), which I would ban if I ruled the library world, I don't think it's necessary to have a single catch all term for people who use libraries. Users seems to work best because users are people who use libraries. I worked mainly in commercial environments where I thought of and referred to people as colleagues, because that is what they were. It was best for me but wouldn't work in a public library for example. The library or information unit should be relevant first to the organisation it is part of in its terminology

Jenny Jones

For all of its shortfalls (we have what I can only describe as 'non-members' visiting my academic library all of the time) I do like the term 'members' because it represents the ideological shift that Lankes discusses in his work and helps me to remember this. It's a classic librarian pitfall to get lost arguing about semantics I fear (and I'm so guilty of it!) use the term 'members' or not if you like but what is important is that we start seeing the people who come into the library (and perhaps those who don't) as people who are in a dialogue with us, that we don't exist in a bubble.

The comments to this entry are closed.




My Photo


  • Subscribe!
    Add to any service

My Flickr photographs

  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Phil Bradley. Make your own badge here.