Why “Work Like a Patron Day” won’t work

I first read aboutA   Work Like a Patron Day on Aaron Schmidt’s Walking Paper.A   At first glance Work Like a Patron Day seemed like a good idea.A   He proposes that library staff:

  • enter and leave the library through the public entrance (not the staff doors)
  • use the public restrooms
  • use the public computers to do your work
  • reserve public meeting rooms for meetings
  • follow all library policies
  • sit in the chairs/use the furniture meant for the public
  • use only the patron interface for searching your catalog
  • pay your library fines (no waiving them the day before!)
  • use a database youà ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢ve never used before

This idea floated around the library blogaratti (1, 2, 3) and was even included on the Library Success best practices wiki.

Something was nagging at me.A   I knew that Work Like a Patron day was fundamentally flawed but couldn’t put my finger on why, let alone articulate it.

Annette DeFaveri instantly pointed out what’s wrong.A   Annette was the national coordinator of the Working Together project, that looked at systemic barriers that socially excluded people (for example, homeless people, Aboriginal people, new immigrants and the working poor) faced in public libraries.A   She said that this approach assumes that our patrons are just like us, and that our experience using the public spaces of the library are the same as our patrons.

In “The Culture of Comfort” that was published in Information for Social Change she writes:

Librarians are a barrier because we are mired in a culture of comfort. Like most people we remain where we are comfortable: comfortable with the programs we offer, comfortable with the services we provide, and comfortable with the people we serve. Even our challenges are comfortable: to do more of what we always do for the people we always serve. As a result we often fail to serve communities that do not look, feel, or think like us.

Work Like a Patron Day won’t give many new insights on how many of our patrons experience the library, especially folks who do not currently use the library.A   The assumptions are flawed and it is a comfortably limited way of analyzing library space, staff and services.