Using Your Library
September 29, 2007 10:26 AM   Subscribe

LibraryFilter: What helps / hinders you in your use of the public library?

At the public library where I work, we are in the process of rearranging, with the general goal of increasing circulation of our library materials (books, CDs, DVDs, software).

It's obvious that we need to move in a more user-centered direction to accomplish this, so I'm trying to see the library through the eyes of our patrons and identify what works, as well as what does not.

So... some questions:
Sorry for the long list!
1) What makes you decide to look for an item in the public library as opposed to going to, say, a bookstore or online source? How often do you find what you are looking for in the library, versus having to go another route?
2) Do you typically visit the library to find something specific, browse what the library has in a general subject area, or just to hang out and see what looks neat?
3) Do you typically end up browsing beyond what you came to the library for? How does that usually happen?
4) In general, do you like navigating the library's collection in the computer catalog and finding items on the shelves yourself, or do you like having a librarian help you find what you're looking for? Why?
5) How easy is it for you to navigate the physical layout of your public library? Can you easily identify where different sections are (fiction, nonfiction, CDs, large print, etc.)?
6) If you were the only person your library served, and cost were no object, how would the library be laid out for you to enjoy it most? What would be gone that is there now? What would be there that now isn't?
7) Tell me about something you were surprised to learn your public library offered.

I know there is plenty of professional literature (studies, surveys, etc.) that explore these questions. I'm interested in your experience here.

Thanks for your feedback!
posted by Rykey to Grab Bag (77 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A robust website that allows users search from home (as well as order books through inter-library loan) is a great start. LAPL just added email reminders when books are due and the ability to pay fines online, both of which are nice touches.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:44 AM on September 29, 2007

1) I can't afford to always buy books, and I especially can't afford to buy books I end up not liking. I like to get books from the library, and if I enjoy them enough after reading them, purchase a copy for my "collection." As for selection: I live in Chicago and am generally disappointed with the availability of texts. I'm not generally looking for unknown stuff - mostly great literature (Pulitzer Prize winners, classics, etc.) and books by well-known authors - yet I constantly can't find what I'm looking for.

2) Usually looking for something specific off a list, but it's a long list and I'm not going to turn up my nose at something on display.

3) I'll browse but often don't have the time.

4) I prefer finding stuff on my own.

5) Pretty easy to navigate the physical Chicago system.

6) I would love more comfortable reading areas, more computers, music listening stations, more helpful/friendly librarians (as in, please pay them what they deserve, which is more!).

7) It's nice to see the Chicago system starting to offer audio book downloads over the internet.

Basically: I use the library system here a lot more if the computer system were more up to date. I always find books that are listed on the system as on the shelf when they're actually lost. I would love to be able to do stuff like ask for a book to be put on hold for me at a specific library over the internet than having to call during business hours and ask a librarian to do it. I would love to renew books online. That's the kind of stuff I think of when I think "user friendly." Email's in my profile if you want more.
posted by bibbit at 10:45 AM on September 29, 2007

Ooh, a poll!

1) I always check the library first (via the web catalogue) because free is better than not-free. Unless it's a book I need for a long time, or intend to write in. My library has what I want 90% of the time. Older books are harder to come by, as well as books that are more often used as textbooks in classes.
2) I come with my list of books I intend to get.
3) While I'm there, I also browse my library's separate section of new books, specifically: fiction, non-fiction and art books.
4) I've never used the librarian. Then again, I've never looked for anything hard to find. It seems faster to do it myself.
5) My library is well laid-out. The only counter-intuitive thing (to me) are that "mystery" books are in a separate section from regular fiction.
6) I want small rolling carts because I walk around for a long time and carrying big art books in a handbasket hurts.
7) Children's books in other languages.

Incidentally, do you want to know how my library is laid out? Sure you do. First floor, main room has checkout desks, new books and large print. The adjacent rooms are study places, computer desks, non-fiction (including computer books), and periodicals. Upstairs has music books, foreign language books, CDs, movies, audio books, art to borrow, and fiction. The 3rd floor is children's.

My library has online book reservations/renewals and will remind you by email when your books are due.
posted by xo at 10:48 AM on September 29, 2007

With the very recent redesign of my local public library website, they are now offering the ability to download and/or listen to for a specific "lending period" a certain number of AudioBooks. As far as what makes me decide to search for something in the library rather than buy it, a few factors. Cost, long-term use of the item, and whether or not I can find it at a local, INDEPENDENT bookstore, as I would prefer to support them first, than the libraries, long before moving to something like Amazon or Chapters. The truth is, however, I more than often visit the library not to check out items but for the multitude of lectures, open discussion groups, art displays and other services. Our local library also provides some great resources for doing research through sources like online databases, periodicals, local sources of history, etc.... and as extensive rare books and genealogy sections.

Check out the site:
posted by DecemberRaine at 10:49 AM on September 29, 2007

i go to the library for books that i'm not sure that i'll like, or that i'll enjoy reading but wouldn't re-read.

i go for dvd's when i have a long weekend or whatever and just want to chill with a bunch of old movies (that's generally the genre that my library has TONS of. luckily i like old movies).

i don't usually get music because i have no idea where the cds are at the two branches i go to. seriously. i have no idea.

i don't ever just go to the library. i reserve what i want online and wait until i get the notice that it's in. then i go to the library to pick it up. if i see something on the shelf between my walk in the door and the counter to check out, i'll pause, and sometimes i go check out the dvds. but i never just go to browse because....

omg the aisles are so narrow and the call numbers so oddly arranged (like 679 is by the door or whatever, and 700 is at the back by the bathroom?!?!?!). i can't find anything and it's very claustrophobic. also, there's no AC, so in the summer it is very hot. and there are always homeless people around (might not be a problem if you're not in a big city) so the smell is sometimes over powering.

but the library in my hometown had none of these problems because it was a smaller town. so, ymmv.

i very rarely ask a librarian for help. i used to do it more often when i was doing research for school and really couldn't figure out what section to look in. but the librarians are so harried and have to spend so much time checking people out and checking books back in and monitoring computer use and asking people to shut the fuck up that i don't want to add to their stress.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2007

1. I check for most everything at the library first, since if I bought every book I wanted to read I'd run out of space in about four months. It helps that my library is part of a consortium that has more than a dozen libraries, and it's quite rare that I'm not able to find something I want to read.

2. I'm typically at the library to pick up a hold, since I get a lot of those, and then I start browsing.

3. I always browse beyond what I came for! I'll remember something I wanted to read or a topic I wanted to explore and start wandering.

4. I find things myself -- I'm quite comfortable with the dewey decimal system.

5. My library is easy to navigate but that's because it's pretty small. The shelves are labeled, too.

6. I would have all of the genre sections split out -- sf/f, romance, mystery, etc. I'd also want a larger DVD section, especially documentaries and TV series. My library won't request anything through the hold system that isn't a documentary but they seem to hold a different definition than I do, so I had to join Netflix to watch Grey Gardens.

7. I'm constantly surprised to see the new nonfiction selection at my library. There are new books I want to read there almost every time I visit.
posted by sugarfish at 10:52 AM on September 29, 2007

oh, one more thing:

philly has a pretty great library website. you can browse books and reserve them and to library loan. i believe you can also pay fines online. but, for some reason, they don't email you when books are in. they send you something in the us mail. which is very odd to me. so, if you implement a really great web presence, be sure to take it all the way.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:56 AM on September 29, 2007

Okay, reading further down your list:

2/3) I usually go with one book (or genre, or subject) in mind, and then try to pick up something unexpected.

4.) I prefer finding books myself, although I appreciate how useful librarians can be. I spent much of my childhood in libraries and bookstores, and I feel like if I'm unable to find a book, something is seriously wrong. Having said that, I recently accompanied my mother to her local library and really appreciated the help the librarians gave her.

5.) Library navigation trouble only seems to happen when the library split between many different floors.

6.) Were I the sole patron...I'd bring back card catalogs. I made great discoveries just flipping through cards when I was a kid. That doesn't seem to happen with the computer catalogs. I assume someday, there will be a technology akin to Cover Flow that will make the process of exploring subjects via computer much more organic.

Also, lions.

7.) I have to say, the biggest surprise lately was that my mother's small Midwest library offered more digital content (a blog, podcasts, a flickr account) than the LAPL does.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:59 AM on September 29, 2007

1 - I use the online catalogue from home, always.

2 - I go to pick up my holds. Rarely browse, usually only if the online search wasn't enough.

3 - No.

4 - Indifferent, though picking up holds instead of looking is nice. I ask for help if something is not where it should be.

5 - It's fine.

6 - It wouldn't be a place to hang out, just a place to pick up my holds. And definitely no screaming kids story time.

7 - Nothing. It's a small town.
posted by Listener at 11:00 AM on September 29, 2007

This thread is going to explode, isn't it?

One more quick note. Self-checkout machines are GREAT.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:01 AM on September 29, 2007

My public library's OPAC is frustrating. Last year I was doing some volunteer work teaching an elderly lady how to use her computer, and kept coming up against the fact that there was no way to limit a search of the catalog to audiobooks (the only thing she was interested in) - she always had to go down to the library and have the librarian help her browse through the shelves, when she would have preferred to browse on her own time at home and go to the library with a few exact items in mind. I've also had trouble searching for things for myself, although I can't think of specific examples - it's just very clunky and difficult (or at least it was up until several months ago; I haven't looked in a while).

To answer your specific questions:

1) I usually prefer the bookstore simply because I enjoy owning lots of books, but I'm more likely to go to the library for something I couldn't afford or am not interested in reading all the way through -- hefty tomes in history, for example.
2) I usually go to find something specific, but also usually take a while to browse their recommended/new book section beforehand, or just to walk through the shelves pulling things off at random. I don't usually check out anything other than what I came to get, however - otherwise I'd end up with more than I could read.
3) Yes, see above.
4) I would rather find things for myself; although I don't enjoy browsing the inconvenient catalog (see above).
5) Pretty easy; yes.
6) Well, books I'm interested in would of course take a prominent place on the first floor: literature, natural history, astronomy, etc. I would like a nice selection of DVDs, but I haven't checked out my library's selection in a while so I couldn't say if I would like it changed or not. More comfortable chairs and reading spaces; the library I frequent is rather dark, and provides mostly tables and benches for reading areas.
7) Can't think of anything off the top of my head.
posted by frobozz at 11:02 AM on September 29, 2007

Parking. Yep, parking. The main public library here charges the highest rate for parking in the entire region. And any parking within walking distance is still somewhat expensive.

Not that it's a huge deal, we're still only talking about $5 for a few hours, but no other "store" or government facility here charges for parking, so people aren't used to it (it's also a large part of why our downtown died, but that's another story). So, why not just buy the book? :-)
posted by shepd at 11:07 AM on September 29, 2007

1) I'm a big library fan, so library is the first place to go for me--often to see if I want to buy the book, I check it out and see if it'll be worth re-reading or useful over time. Or when I just want a "kind" of book to read, or just something by an author. I usually find most of what I want in the library, though I sometimes have to wait for it (holds or for it to get transfered from another library).
2) Yes to all almost everytime I go. I usually have something in mind I'm looking for, and I few ideas of some general stuff I'd like to look into, and I wander a fair bit.
3) Yes. Good labeling. Being able to know that I'm wandering into Cooking, AutoRepair, Crafts, Goverment Documents, whatever. Good labeling gives me ideas of other things I want to look for, or lures me into looking and new stuff. Display books are nice, too or staff picks. At Powell's (not a library, I know, but the closest thing to it in a retail bookstore, and that's what I like about it), I go almost exclusively by staff picks and recommendations nowadays. The people who work in bookstores and libraries have such a wonderful bunch of knowledge concerning the books they work with--it's nice when they share their opinions. Then in the future, I look out for more recommendations from the people who have tastes similar to my own.
4) The computer catalog is usually okay, though the interface is often clunky. I prefer to find stuff myself because I don't like hassling someone else (librarians are busy doing all the other million thing they have to do). What's nice at our main library is that they have an Info Desk specifically for answering questions and requests. It's okay to interrupt those people because that's what they expect you to do.
5) I'm going to be fairly repetitive and say that an increase in labeling would be great for most libraries I go to. And better maps of their layouts so I don't have to wander to find the DVDs or old magazines.
6) This is a tough one because one of the best things about my favorite libraries is that they have a cozy feeling to them. On the other hand, it's often hard to find stuff in those libraries because things are so "cozy." So, I'd have a library with lots of small collections that were well labeled and there would be maps everywhere (or one central one and then little paper maps to take with you--not tiny maps on the back of a library services brochure, but a full page map). There would be lots of comfy chairs and small benches by each stack so if I wanted to read a passage here or there, I wouldn't have to go far before finding a place I could sit down and read it. Large baskets or bags (and carts for older people? or me when I'm older? or when I'm lazy) at the entrance for carrying books. No books on the bottom shelves or the high shelves. Lots of staff recommendations, featured authors, and "further reading" suggestions on books. Free tea. Plants. Art work that rotated every whatever-time-period. Man, I could go on and on. This is fun...
7) They held a discussion panel about comics (I'm a big fan) with local and not-local artists. I got to meet one of my favorite web comic artists and hear her talk with Scott McCloud and others about what was going on in the Portland comics scene! One of my favorite library times.

I've also found that this fellow MeFite's website to be pretty awesome for library-related stuff.

Whew! Sorry it's so long. Looks like you struck a chord with me. Good luck with your library!
posted by eralclare at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2007

Were I the only patron, I'd have the library keep a huge backlog of old magazines and newspapers, if not hard copies, then on microfilm or some other medium. One of my favorite things to do in the library is look up ages old articles in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, but it's always hit or miss whether the library will have access to the original article.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:15 AM on September 29, 2007

1) I'm a miser
2) something specific
3) hang around a little. Get started people-watching, sometimes.
4) computer catalog. You know -- guys don't like to ask for directions.
5) not too difficult
6) Maybe put the computers (for internet) in a different room. Somehow, the computer area is the least peaceful area of the library. "Clack - clack - clack". "dude, check it out, it ran right over him!"
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 11:19 AM on September 29, 2007

(I'm going to pop back in to second eralclare that the library totally needs tea and lots more plants. Plus, your question has made me decide to stroll down to the library this afternoon, which I otherwise wouldn't have done, so good job. :) )
posted by frobozz at 11:25 AM on September 29, 2007

I use the Seattle Public Library system for about 95 percent of my book needs and about 50 percent of my video needs.

My typical use is to go online and search for authors/books and then request that they be delivered to the nearest branch. I get an e-mail when the books are ready to be picked up and then I have a week to retrieve them.

One thing that I really like is that in addition to putting things on hold, I can also add them to a private "list" that stays with my personal library account. Generally the only things I put on hold immediately are items with extremely long hold queues -- if it's something that's sitting on the shelf with no requests, it's nice for me to be able to keep track of the fact that I want to read it without having to request it immediately, especially if I've already got several books checked out that I'm in the middle of.

I occasionally just go to the library to see what's there but in these instances I will stick almost exclusively to the new acquisitions. It's rare that I will wander through the stacks looking for something to read. I also will almost always browse this section of the library on my visits to pick up/drop off other books. About a quarter of the things I check out are spontaneous grabs from the new arrivals though only about 1 percent are from scanning the other shelves -- this is mainly because the online access system is so easy to use and the fact that I can do all the browsing I want from home.

Self checkout is nice, but it's not a feature that I find essential or even necessary. If it reduces my wait that's great but if it disappeared, I wouldn't use the library any less.
posted by camcgee at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2007

My library is Montreal's relatively new Grande bibliothèque but I have the misfortune to be an anglophone. I read French but in general I prefer to read English (and I won't read in French translation anything that was originally published in English) so these facts will influence what I have to say about the generally quite spectacular library. The majority of their collection is in French but it has respectable holdings in English, although not necessarily the most interesting recent stuff (which often arrives in French translations only).

1) I'll check the library for things I've just discovered or heard about, or read about in an article, when it's something I think might interest me but which I'm not about to rush out and buy.
2) I visit the library when I need to bring my laptop someplace and really concentrate on a bit of research or writing. The fact that it also lends out books is secondary, although I have a card. The G.B. has terrific spots to plug in a laptop and sit comfortably working on their w-fi; it also has many different cosy nooks in which to study or read.
3) I will browse happily if I go to look for a specific book and find others like it nearby.
4) I've never asked a librarian for help. The catalogue and browsing have always found me what I need.
5) The G.B. is very clearly signposted and I have never had any doubt what section I am in.
6) If I were the only person my library served, they'd come around periodically with a cart serving espresso and snacks. Then I could live there. - I could also wish the G.B. did not turn off its web catalogue for several hours after midnight. It's a web service and the excuse that they need to update their database seems pretty lame to me. They can't update a duplicate and then swap?
7) I was a bit surprised to find I could borrow Rosetta Stone language packs, although I have not yet done so and am not sure they carry the Mac versions.
posted by zadcat at 11:30 AM on September 29, 2007

1) I go to bookstores to buy interesting fiction. I go to the library to learn. If I wish to have knowledge, the Internet can provide a salad, the library has meat and potatoes.

2) Specific. After I find it , I browse.

3) Yes. The fascinating people looking for specific are engaging.

4) Myself. I tend to look at other books on the way. More than one librarian has tapped their foot waiting.

5 & 6) My library is small, the questions don't apply, except for "What would be there that now isn't? More books.

7) Online service (reservations).
posted by Mblue at 11:30 AM on September 29, 2007

1) I always check the library first. If I can't find a specific book or if I really liked the book then I buy it. I also would buy it if I was looking for a general non-fiction book and the ones at the library are too out of date.

2) I try to have a list for fiction, there's a lot of crap that's too hard to wade through. I love browsing non-fiction. I often check out 10 books, just to have variety or because something catches my eye (nonfiction)

3) I generally grab a couple of fiction books off my to-read list, and then browse my favorite non-fiction areas to see if anything interesting has been returned. I also always check the new book non-fiction section.

4) I rarely use the librarian unless I can't figure out the right search terms to find what I'm looking for in the catalog. For example, one time I was looking for music in Spanish, but I couldn't figure out the right search terms to browse the selection. Librarian figured it out right away.

5) My library recently reorganized their fiction section, and I hate it. It's my biggest pet peeve about my library. They divided the fiction books by genre--now the scifi are separate from the 'fiction' which are separate from the mysteries which are separate from the westerns. So now if I'm looking for a book by Terry Pratchett, do I look in scifi or fiction? Horrible. It was better when they had them all together and you could just look for the mystery sticker on the spine if that was the genre you wanted.

6)Layout is not really big to me. But at my library there is no short-term use computer for the internet--the waiting list for a computer is so long that you can't ever just look up something quickly. More new books and a way to access the internet for 10 minutes would be great. I love that the catalog is fully accessible from home, with renewals, due dates etc, I can reserve books for free and get a phone call when they're available (best feature ever--free book reserving)

7) I recently found out that there is a 'recommend similar books/authors feature' on one of the catalog computers, which is great for when I forget my to-read list because then at least I'm not just randomly picking books off the shelf.
posted by sLevi at 11:33 AM on September 29, 2007

Jumping right in.

1) I go to bookstores to browse, then make lists of what I find intriguing and take it to the library. Because my local library buys just about anything I ask for (assuming they don't have it already), I'm a devoted user. On the rare occasion that what I want is just too obscure or unlikely to be purchased, I'll bite the bullet. But that's one out of every 25 books I read. I hate owning books because I move too frequently and they're damn heavy in bulk.

2) All of the above, depending on my needs at that moment.

3) Sometimes I go for the express purpose of browsing. I start in the New Arrivals, work my way around the entire room (fiction and nonfiction alike), and if something strikes me as requiring further investigation, I'll pursue it elsewhere in the library. Often this will happen after I've checked something out and fallen in love with it, and want to find more either by that author or in the same general tag cloud.

4) The computers are handy for finding something very specific, since I don't have the call number system memorized. It also tells me if there are copies in other libraries in the network that I can request if I don't find it in-house. I also use the computers to reserve, hold, and tag items (my library has a wishlist/bookmark function). I have never, ever in my adult life asked a librarian for help finding something.

5) I know my library's physical layout well enough - again, I just don't know the call numbers by heart.

6) I am a literary omnivore. I wouldn't wish anything away. A better selection (read: an ACTUAL selection) of international music would be nice, but that's what the Loeb Library at Harvard is for.

7) Umm Kulthum records for $1 at their seasonal book sales!
posted by mykescipark at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2007

Signs for browsers in the non-fiction section. Too many libraries only label the stacks with the Dewey Decimal ids. If a stack is history, it should say that somewhere. B&N does this, so should you.

Clear signs for non-browsers in the non-fiction section. If I know the DD# is 802.11b, the signs should let me easily find the exact stack I want, and which end the book is on.

Computer catalogs that reset back to an easy to use search page. Too many times, I will have to find the "go to start" button, or even select the proper library in order to do a simple search. I know some people want to search other libraries, but most people in the library don't.

And this is a biggie, but my biggest problem with libraries is the limited hours. I don't get home until 6 PM. My local library being open until 6 PM is worthless to me. Being open one day a week until 8 PM is barely any help. And when I'm free on the weekend, they are only open on Saturday, and that's only when it's not summer. Is it any wonder that employed people don't go to the library?
posted by smackfu at 11:48 AM on September 29, 2007

I use the library a LOT. I tend to check out stuff I am interested in, but don't necessarily want to buy. If there is an expensive book I want, I will check it out from the library first and if I love it enough, I will go buy my own copy. I use my library's inter-library loan quite a bit and request books online. Little shopping basket type things on wheels would be AWESOME for hauling books around the library. I like checking out dvds of documentaries & foreign films, but sometimes I forget my local library has this option. If the dvds were located within view of the check out desk or entrances, I'd be more likely to remember to check out a couple of dvds.

I always make a list of the books I want before going to the library, but do some "impulse shopping," too. I do check out book displays and veer towards historical non-fiction and cookbooks.

I think the issue of having computers with internet access in public libraries is kind of touchy for me. On one hand, it's a great resource that I've used in the past when I haven't had a computer of my own or have been traveling. On the other hand, there have been many times that I've walked by other patrons looking at something sketchy. One library I used to go to had all standing computer stations, lined up against each side of an entry way, making it impossible to hide what is on the screen and also discouraging people from getting too comfortable and hanging out all day.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:52 AM on September 29, 2007

1) Libraries are free (well, other than my taxes, but I'm happy that 0.0000001% of my tax dollars go to the public library) so that is why I use the library -- I will only buy a book if I know I will need to use it repeatedly over a long period of time. I have access to a so-so public library that I use for novels, and a really good university library that I use for anything serious. With ILL and other book-sharing programs, it is very rare that I can't get hold of what I need.

2) I always always always browse the new book section, and find it mysterious why some books stay in that section for more than a year, and other new books never visit the new book section at all. A really good new book section, with "staff picks," cross-listings with NYTimes and other book reviews, and a frequently updated supply of books is a wonderful thing.

3) I always look one shelf up and one shelf down from the book I am looking for, in case there are nearby books that are interesting. But I don't go wandering around the stacks looking for something to grab my eye.

4) The librarians at the local public library are well-meaning but not very sharp, and I wouldn't ask them anything more complicated than "when is this book due?" At the university library the librarians are amazing and I ask them any time I am having trouble finding something.

5) Is this my chance to tell you how much I HATE HATE HATE the Dewey Decimal system, and love the LoC cataloging system? Because it makes a difference, at least to me. And in the public library, they recently added some new shelves that make you take some odd detours while walking -- it probably looked great on paper, but should have been changed before filling them with books. But they do a really nice job of segregating the noisy kids from the snoozing old guys, and the signs are really large and easy to read.

6) Bigger and better new book section, combined with a really fast ILL system.

7) I'm still waiting to be surprised by them. It is really sad, actually -- in most towns, the public library is a source of free-thinking and love of ideas; here it is more like a bad cartoon from the 1950s.
posted by Forktine at 11:57 AM on September 29, 2007

I cant answer your questions specifically, because I stopped using my local libraries many years ago, but perhaps telling you why I stopped will give you ideas on what NOT to do... :P

1.) no quick/easy way to see all the locations in my city. - The library district website should have a clear, easy to read, printable map showing locations (preferably with a reference on the map also giving operating hours and phone number,etc - basic information you'd need)

2.) content woefully outdated. - My local libraries suffered from the usual cliche problem of being stuck in the 1950's. The staff and lookup systems were archaic, and very little was done to modernize. From what I remember, the book selection was also pretty poor (both in limitation of topics and condition of the materials)

I've moved to a new, nearby, larger town now.. so I'm hoping its different, but after years of not going, I dont really have any motivation to get out and try the library again. Perhaps if they advertised some interesting presentations or speakers or events, I might go. But (historically speaking) the city I lived in only seemed to only put minimal effort into engaging the K-12 age humans, and even that was pretty poor/behind the times.

Here are the types of things that would bring me back :
1.) more technology, or at a very minimum, more technology-savvy. Modernize and engage the 21st century readers. Especially a great library website where I can search for available items, perhaps read an interesting librarian blog, or email questions to staff.

2.) Interesting events that engage the community like : family-reading nights, interesting speakers (authors or industry experts covering different topics). Events or presentations that tie into local current events. (say for example your city is building a new nuclear reactor. Do a "focus-month" on nuclear energy and spotlight those books and try to bring in a couple presenters to talk)

3.) make it comfy. Why do people go to bookstores or coffee shops?. so they can test-read a book or drink coffee and relax for a bit. How about a fireplace or a couch/living-room type area where I can kick my shoes off and read for a bit.

Make it fun and engaging. Make the library (and the events therein) relevant to peoples current lives), and make it easy and useful. Thanks for posting this question though. I'm honestly suprised people still use libraries and its a good reminder to me that they still have value (maybe even more so than ever considering 21st century short attention span syndrome :P)
posted by jmnugent at 12:02 PM on September 29, 2007

1: Just about every fiction itch I get comes from the Library first. My local library is on the bus-route home, so I often drop in to check the new books section and the DVD racks.

Usually I order from a bookstore if there happens to be a long waiting list for the book in question, if the library doesn't have the item in its catalog, or if I'm looking at a non-fiction reference that I'll likely use multiple times.

2: Usually when I drop into the library I hit A: new science fiction B: new non-fiction C: the DVD shelves D: current periodicals.

3: Sometimes.

4: Usually I only go to a librarian if there is something funny going on with an item I'm looking for, to request a search, or to order a new book.

5: Very easy. BTW, the library I'm talking about is Monroe County Public Library.

6: Ohh, I don't know how to answer this question because I think it's in my best interest that the library serves more than me. Something I think the library could offer more explicitly is web-based mediacasts of community meetings. But that's primarily because the library is also the Community Access Teleivion hub with archival video of community meetings. Oh, and logons using a real username and passphrase rather than the barcode on the library card.

7: I'm not easily surprised.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:04 PM on September 29, 2007

My public library's OPAC is frustrating.

You should try working on them on the back end. They tend to be great databases with horrible Web APIs lacking even the most basic functionality or customizability. And because they generally all suck at the web, there's little incentive to jump to a competitor. And even then, the vendor selection is often done by people with no idea what to ask for when buying a web-based product.

So, yes, I would validate your frustration.

(OPAC = online public access catalog in library jargon)
posted by gimonca at 12:10 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I'm bored on a Sunday. If I'm looking for something and they don't have it, I'll order it myself.

2) Browse for fiction.

3) Almost never. My problem with libraries is that within a couple of years, I end up having read a high enough proportion of the novels I might care to read that browsing for stuff I haven't read becomes difficult -- everything is either chaff or stuff I've read. This is true even at large university libraries, and is why I haven't been to the library (apart from work stuff) in years.

4) I'll find it myself.

5) I've never been in a library where I couldn't find my way to what I wanted inside of a minute or two.

6) I don't have the slightest idea about how it would be arranged. If it were just for me, I would get rid of: All children's books. All romance novels. All self-help books. All books about astrology and similar. All gooey books about relationships. All remaining nonfiction books not pitched at university students or higher. All large print books. All CDs. Internet terminals.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:24 PM on September 29, 2007

One area where I think local libraries really excel, although it's something that I don't personally spend lots of time doing, is in maintaining materials so that people can research local issues. Local publications and ephemera, map archives, local government documents, even photo collections, combined with modest law, environmental, social science etc. collections, can be a gold mine for civic engagement. Throw in some public computers with access to subscription databases while you're at it, too.

That not the sort of thing that will be interesting to everybody, but it can be important to the one driven person who makes a difference for a lot of people, so the indirect effects can be very worthwhile.
posted by gimonca at 12:24 PM on September 29, 2007

1) Library's free. I rarely buy new books.
2) My library's 2 blocks from work, so I zip by about 3 times a week, rarely for a specific book (Unless someone just posted an AskMeFi about book selections)
3) I tend to just browse anyway. What catches my attention might be a familiar author or a cover picture.
4) Online catalogue. Because I'm an introvert.
5) Most libraries I've been to are laid out in some logical order and usually is not hard to figure out. Either fiction here, non-fiction in Dewey order and children's upstairs, or grouped in some logical way. (MLK in DC is several levels- one big section is Technology with several non-consecutive Dewey groups, but it makes sense) The weird ones are broken up in some way that's not intuitive.
6) ?
7) Chess club and other after-school and evening groups.

My library has an online catalogue, but the thing I most miss from my previous library is the ability to work with my account online- check I'm not overdue, extend due-back date, reserve books online.
posted by MtDewd at 12:28 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I almost always get books from the library because the cost is right and I'm trying to have less stuff in my life, books included. The exceptions are books I like and want to keep, in which case I'll usually buy a used hardcover, or a new release that I want to read right away when the hold list is too long (most recently Harry Potter). I can nearly always find what I'm looking for through Colorado's fantastic inter-library loan system.

2) I always use the online catalog to reserve books and visit the library only when a book I've requested is in or if I want to use the library as a place to do work.

3) I don't often browse beyond what I came to pick up since I usually have nearly too many books to read at any given time.

4) The computer catalog is convenient and easy to use from home which is where I tend to use the catalog. I've probably asked for help at my local library once or twice.

5) It's generally easy to navigate though the organization of non-fiction isn't too obvious; some classics and all biographies are stuck on a shelf along the back wall, along with some oversize, as an example. I've been at the library and overheard people asking where those sections are more than once.

6) I'd like a new releases section near the front with fiction and non-fiction so I could quickly see if there's anything I want to pick up on my way to the hold shelves. Others have mentioned cozy places to read and I'll definitely second that. The nicest nook that I liked to curl up with a book and read in was fairly recently turned into a teen-only area, which I ended up getting kicked out of when I didn't realize it was teen-only. I don't think I've been to the library since to sit down with a book and read. Most of the other reading places are out in the open, which doesn't feel nearly as comfortable. I'd also like faster wi-fi internet for when I come to work with my laptop. Sometimes it's so slow as to be unusable. More desks/tables with power outlets close by would also be nice. Those work areas could also have a little more privacy.

7) As many recent DVDs as they have.

Finally, I wish librarians would be more strict about cell phones. There's a sign coming in that says set them to vibrate but I've never seen a librarian approach anyone whose phone has rang, even after multiple times. And I've never seen them ask someone currently talking on a phone to take the call out in the lobby. When I'm in the back working I want it to be a quiet place without distractions. That includes poorly or unsupervised children.
posted by 6550 at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2007

For books, I always look to the library first. But not movies and music. Just not a great, consistent selection. I love going to the library more than anything else. I'm currently on a quest to visit all 53 branches of the Philadelphia Public Library. I think I've got 31 down. So I'm usually not looking for anything specific, but I'm always interested in seeing what unique collections are available at each library. I personally think all library branches should have something unique about them. I always end up browsing beyond what I came for, and it happens especially if the library is well-organized. If it isn't, I don't browse for long due to frustration.

I'd much rather use the catalog myself. The librarian is often busy and I can be shy. I'm not very good at navigating the physical layout, even though I've been to dozens and dozens and dozens of libraries. Some are better than others. If I could design it for myself anyway that I wanted, I'd like wide, open spaces. No hard chairs of any kind. Any please put the shelves in order. Letters A-F should not be rooms away from letters G-Z. 600 should not be far from 700.

I was surprised to learn my library offered self-checkout. I love it. Also, each branch site lists the nearest bus stops, I like that and it's a nice touch. I wish they offered more, like this ability to pay fines online (that would be great). Also, anything downloadable. I don't think they offer any downloads of any kind on their website. Better technology in general. would be great
posted by Danila at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2007

When I'm in the back working I want it to be a quiet place without distractions. That includes poorly or unsupervised children.

A closed-off section (or floor as is the case with the Arlington public library (MA) which we frequent) for kids' stuff is a win-win. 6550 gets his quit place and I get a place where I can bring my 3-year-olds who love books but from whom complete silence is not a reasonable expectation.
posted by originalname37 at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2007

I go to the library if I need reference books on a certain subject. I also go if I just need a quiet place to sit down and read or write and be alone. I like the library to have lots of comfortable places for me to sit down with a few books and spend a few hours. Comfort is very important, otherwise I could just go to Barnes and Noble.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2007

I have to say, just this post made me want to go to the library. Really- I often forget it exists. Maybe you should attend more fairs or events out in the community, remembering the library is the first step in getting people to come to it.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I go to the library because I'm cheap -- with a few exceptions, any book I've never read must audition for me before I will pay money for it. I'm a very heavy interlibrary loan user so only rarely is something I want not available.
2) All of those.
3) If I have time, yes. Usually something on display will catch my eye, or something I spot when walking through the stacks.
4) I prefer finding things myself, because the library has made that pretty easy to do. However, I'm usually only looking for specific titles or subjects; if I wanted something more complicated, like, say, a newspaper article I read about Miss America back in 1978, then I would very much prefer a librarian's help in finding it.
5) Pretty easy, I guess.
6) Well, I guess there would be more more more books in the subject areas and authors I personally like, and lots and lots of music and dance dvds. But really, I don't have any complaints in this area.
7) I've worked in libraries several times over the past 25 years, so nothing, really, for me. But I remember telling my mother about looking up a phone number for some patron who called in asking about it, and my mother was VERY surprised that the library would do that for someone.
posted by JanetLand at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2007

1) The library's already paid for so I'm happy to use it as much as possible. I only ever buy books I intend to give away or to keep (and to keep either because I love them or because I intend to take notes in them or use them as reference). I typically find what I need in the library, except in some cases where it's something obscure or I want something new and I'm very very low on the wait list; then I'll either ask for them to purchase the book or movie, ask for the book through ILL, or go to the local indie booksstore/movie rental.

2) I typically have some idea of what I want but also will frequently browse, which is convenient for me since I work at the library.

3) Yes. I love to browse; sometimes with some guidance (looking for certain directors or authors), other times just picking up whatever looks neat.

4) Usually I search for myself because usually I can find what I want.

5) The physical layout of the library is fine and I know where all the sections are.

6) If I were the only person your library served, and cost were no object, the movies and music would be at the front because I'm a lazy bum, and the books would be at the back, and the library would save a fortune ditching its magazine subscriptions and most of its database subscriptions, which it would then spend in buying more foreign films including the bulk of the Criterion collection. But I'm not the only person the library serves, and people go to it for different reasons, and my ideal library would be someone else's horror story.

7) Movie downloads.
posted by Tuwa at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2007

I miss the Los Angeles library system so much. Believe it or not, I liked it better than the UC library system. The interlibrary loan was faster and my branch was very small so I knew a bunch of the librarians. I loved being able to reserve library books online and have them show up at my local branch within a few days. Self checkout is a beautiful thing.

One thing that would be nice would be (I know this is weird, but you asked for my opinion) if the interlibrary loan books were wrapped or somehow obscured. Because I did know so many of the librarians, I felt self-conscious about some of the books I chose because I felt that they knew so much about me and my interests based on my reading, and they would occasionally remark on my selections. I felt like it was a kind of discouragement form really using all the library had to offer because I'd sometimes not request something because I didn't even want to know what the librarians would think.

I rarely browsed in the library because, as I've said, I lived near a small branch that didn't have much in it. I went there to pick up my ILL books and occasionally looked around, but since I was there anyway multiple times a week, I knew the layout pretty well.

But the thing I miss most of all was the monthly book sale. All donated books that the branch wasn't going to use were assigned truly bargain-basement prices and put in enormous bins. I would get ten, twenty books for a song, including some great finds. I rarely missed a library sale.

I never got a San Diego library card when I moved there because I had the UC library at my disposal, although I didn't take as much advantage of it as I should have. I felt like the librarians there had more important things to do than deliver my ILL requests since there were, you know, papers that needed writing. Now that I live in Palo Alto, I have a library card again but I still haven't checked anything out.
posted by crinklebat at 2:07 PM on September 29, 2007

My libraries in Melbourne: Stonnington Council libraries (South Yarra, Toorak, Malvern) and Monash University libraries (Caulfield, Hargrave-Andrews, Matheson).

1) I am a fairly recent heavy library user, because living in Spain libraries just didn't have the books I wanted. Thus, I still think of buying books before borrowing them. Now that I am in university, I try to get it from the university library first, the city library next.

Between them they have most everything I want, so I find myself only buying books for splurges, new releases I really must read before everyone else, or books that I want to own for other reasons (taking notes, reference, or pure hoarding).

2) I like browsing the stacks. Serendipity is great.

3) Yes. Often.

4) There is no "in general". There are "get in, get book, get out" days and "hmm, let's spend 30 minutes at the library" days, some of which end up being 2 hours at the library. I like talking to librarians, but that's because I am an extrovert and a terrible flirt.

5) My public library is pretty awesome, and easy to navigate. On "get in, get book, get out" days it's likely that I have confirmed availability of the book in advance through the web.

6) I would like to add: more magazines (even two copies of some), bound magazines (less difficult to damage, and to lose), more international books (languages). More basic science classics. More comics (graphic novels, Vertigo, Wildcat, Fantagraphics). More sofas and couches (a bit like a good cafe).

What I would kick out: what ROU_Xenophobe said.
posted by kandinski at 2:18 PM on September 29, 2007

A closed-off section (or floor as is the case with the Arlington public library (MA) which we frequent) for kids' stuff is a win-win. 6550 gets his quit place and I get a place where I can bring my 3-year-olds who love books but from whom complete silence is not a reasonable expectation.

I definitely agree with that and my library does have a children's section next to a large open area more conducive to discussion, group-work, etc. But that's diagonally opposite from the corner where I go to work at the desks next to non-fiction. That's where I find cell phones and unsupervised children irritating, and where I think there is a reasonable expectation of silence, which is supposed to be a quiet study area (according to the floor plan). And that's where I wish the librarians would be a little more active in asking people to keep the noise down.
posted by 6550 at 2:31 PM on September 29, 2007

Regarding carts which I've seen mentioned a few times: I'd absolutely hate it if my library got carts. Many of the aisles and walkways are already quite narrow and carts would only exacerbate the problem, leading to jams and backtracking when two carts cannot pass. Carts aren't necessarily a terrible idea but it would be folly to add carts without analyzing and likely revamping the layout of the library.
posted by 6550 at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2007

My library has the greatest setup ever, probably due more to accident than planning. When you enter, you're halfway between floors, and you go up to the adults section, and down to the kids. I don't think I've even seen a kid in that library, ever. Other's feelings about this may vary.
posted by smackfu at 2:41 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I look for popular books in the library, if it's really obscure or new and only semi-popular, or I know I'll read it 20 times I'll go to the bookstore

2) I usually have a vague idea of what I want, but its mostly just browsing

3) I'll browse all over the place. Display books are a good way to get me to another area. I also loooooove Dewey decimal (LoC just never made sense to me)

4) I usually find what I need by myself, mostly because I practically grew up in my home library, and even worked there for a while. I'll occasionally ask a library a recommendation, but I can usually find what I'm looking myself.

5) The layout is decent, the worst part is that the oversize and the older non fiction is in a scary upstairs part that no one seems to know about. The best part is that the other parts are very well labeled (big signs hanging over them) and the children's section is on a separate floor, which also has a very-young children's section, and a multipurpose meeting area

6) There would be a decent music selection, more new science and non-fiction books, and less of those crappy romance novels.

7) They have an awesome museum type area tucked away, with old artifacts and paintings you can take out on loan. There's also an area with all of the town records, and information about the area's history.
posted by fermezporte at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2007

1) With the exception of academic texts I plan to use forever and cookbooks, I always go to the library first. Often this means looking in the online catalog and ordering a book from ILL, but I plan ahead.
2) I do all three: targeted reading, browsing the shelves (usually with a starting point from which I wander as my schedule allows), and the occasional hanging out.
3) Personal recommendations from individual librarians, the recent acquisition shelves, and featured theme shelves (e.g., summer reading, staff picks, black history month) catch my attention.
4) I almost always find items on my own, since I'm usually looking for niche subjects that can't be easily researched without a bit of specialized knowledge. When I research outside my main field of study, the research librarians can be more helpful.
5) Both my public municipal library and my (state) university library are easily navigable once you know the layout. I've heard reports from friends who gave up finding anything not located on the ground level. I find the catalog insufficient in indicating a given item's location: is it in the main shelf under its number, in large print, in juvenile or children's, in the special collections, oversized, or does it simply say it's on the shelf when it's actually been removed from circulation? Until recently, a separate paperback area housed some (but not all) paperbacks, with unreliable denotation in the catalog. Frustrating.
6a) I'd love to see areas or floor designated as quiet floors and talking floors, and to see those standards enforced within reason.
6b) In my dream world, the library allows us to make online requests from other branches in the same town. For some reason, we can request ILL and in-state (but out-of-town) loans online, but local branch loans must be requested in person or by phone.
6c) The spines of the CDs would be readable while shelved. When the CDS are repackaged into durable cases, the cover art and titles get slipped into clear plastic pockets, but the spine doesn't align with the artist/title. Instead, a sticker bearing the catalog number is tucked around the top of the spine. This means the spine of each shelved CD displays no artist or title, and only part of its catalog number.
7) I was astonished when my library started allowing us to check out videos and DVDs for a week (up from 2 days) and then added the ability to renew by phone or online. With the 2-day limit, I had given up checking out films from the library; the late fees cost more than renting a film and keeping it overdue. Equally surprising to me: our library apparently allows check-out of current periodicals, not just back issues.

One thing that encourages heavy patronage at our main branch: it's located on a main street, right near the metro hub. This means people with time on their hands drop in to browse or to pick up specific items, and the drop-off box on the side wall nearest the metro transfer makes returns a snap.

And one thing I was unpleasantly surprised to hear from a librarian: if a title has six hold requests, they order an additional copy. (This is what she said ---- can it possibly be accurate?) Every time a slew of people call in about a book mentioned on the Martha Stewart show or on NPR, the library orders another copy. This means multiples (not 2, but 8 or 10) of popular fiction, each copy of which circulates lightly. It seems wasteful and indulgent, but of course I don't know anything about library science.
posted by Elsa at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2007

1) Library is free. Books are expensive here (Canada). I would rather make sure I want the book before buying it. I find most of what I've looked for at the library, although there have been times I've really wanted something they don't have, and apparently you can request to buy online but I can't figure out *how*, I've asked, it's not intuitive at all and I keep forgetting.

2) & 3) Whenever I find book recommendations online, I throw them into an Amazon wishlist so I don't forget them. Every so often I pull out the wishlist and plug the titles into my library's online catalog. If they have a book I'll put it on hold. Then the library notifies me by email as the books are available and I make a trip to pick them up. This system works wonderfully for me, because I have small children and it's hard to browse; this means I don't forget what I want to look for and it's made so convenient to obtain stuff.

We usually only browse the children's area. I will browse for myself if I don't have the kids with me but that's not often; I will start with one book I'm looking for and check all the other books around it, exploring the subject. I will also wander the shelves looking at the labels until something strikes me; I love having subject area labels on the shelves. I like "staff selections", "new arrivals", and rotating theme shelves placed by the front near the checkouts and doors so I can give them a quick look whenever I run in, and I wish there were more of those, with more varied offerings. I almost always find something I wouldn't have thought to look for.

4) I love looking stuff up myself in the online catalog from home, and that I can have books reserved and ready for me when I come in (see above). This is the most excellent advance in the past decade or so in using the library for me. I prefer not to bother the librarian unless it's something really specific or obscure.

5) It's fine. It's not the most intuitive layout but I usually can find what I want.

6) The only other thing I want out of my library (besides an easier way to request books they don't have online): their DVD system bites the big one. DVDs are free and can be checked out as many as you like for a week at a time. That means there is *never* anything new or interesting on the racks. It's all on hold and you have to wait *months* to get anything. I have put movies on hold where I am the 50th or 70th person on the list... Our last library charged 50 cents per DVD checked out and you could only keep it for one night. I was miffed at that at first but in time grew to love it... you could go in any given night and there would always be a bunch of options available that were fresh and new to take out. They also focused on buying more indie/offbeat stuff and that was great.

7) All the online access: browsing, putting stuff on hold, renewals and checking your account... I can't mention this enough, it's awesome and means I use the library a LOT more.
posted by Melinika at 4:21 PM on September 29, 2007

Demographic: I live in a town of about 30,000 people with a cramped, underfunded library.

1) If I'm not entirely certain I want to own a book, I will look for it via the library. I'd say I find what I am looking for 60% of the time. I don't use ILL, but I'm aware that I could and the yield would probably be a lot higher.
2) I typically just cruise the new books section, but occasionally I am searching for a particular book/subject.
3) Sometimes, yes. It's usually triggered by something I see in the new books section.
4) I prefer finding books myself, probably because I was a library page for a while and also I'm one of those ornery "I'll just do it myself" types.
5) I can now...if I was a newcomer, it would probably be more difficult. Nonfiction is split onto two levels, for one thing, and that can be really annoying.
6) I've been to this library and thought it was very well laid out. I'd be fine with copying that.
7) MP3 players for audio books.
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2007

1) Library is especially for things I want to read or refer to once. Definitely for novels and travel books.
2) Mostly specifics or a general area (usually started by a specific search), rarely just to see what's there.
3) Oh always. Walking down the rows and finding some interesting title; remembering some favorite author published something recently; things like that.
4) I'd rather do it myself and go to them when something's not where it should be. If they do it all for me, I'm less likely to find other random things.
5) I find the biggest difficulty is knowing where the alphabet is split in fiction (two sides of a large floor in one building, where A-K(?) are on the left and L(?)-Z are on the right, knowing what fiction is actually in the literature section upstairs. The video/CD/DVD area is the most difficult to find anything but I don't use it much.
6) What would be gone: All of the non-special books that are for "in-library use only." Wtf good is a mainstream (easily available, cheap, not reference) book if it can't be taken out to read? The internet computers would not take up so much of the first floor, and would have some book displays for browsing to encourage internet users to, you know, actually read.
7) You can check out season tickets to the Aquarium, Children's Museum, Art Museum, etc. for the day. (This is Boston, MA).
posted by whatzit at 4:39 PM on September 29, 2007

To answer a bunch of your questions, here's a tale of two systems, and how access to a well designed working OPAC plus a reasonably deep inventory completely changed how I used the library. In Philadelphia, decades of only buying best sellers along with drastic culls eliminating great swathes of literature and history left little to browse. Almost anything over a few years old must be requested, and the OPAC is a mess: the system's down half the time, and patrons need to apply for a PIN with a librarian. Then, as misanthropicsarah mentioned, they have to wait for notification that may or may not come in the mail.

I had a list of 100+ books I could never get access to in Philly when I moved to Pittsburgh, and it was like night and day. New small press fiction and graphic novels to browse through! Academic texts and older literature available! Most of my list was available in county, and the einetwork OPAC gave me queue and tracking info on each requested item and emailed me when they arrived. I was amazed, and promptly starting checking the library first for every book I was looking for, hitting my local branch every week, and supporting their friends' campaign.

I know collection management and web presence is mired in politics in many towns, but it takes more than coffee shops to increase circulation -- a decent selection of media's got to be available, and patrons shouldn't have to jump though hoops to access it.

One of the simplest things any library system could do to increase circulation, however, is exactly what you're doing here: offering patrons a voice in how their libraries are run. Maybe web/checkout suggestion forms?
posted by ellanea at 4:44 PM on September 29, 2007

[addendum]: 7) laptops. In-library use only, but holy Hell, they have laptops. For checkout.
posted by Tuwa at 4:45 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I look for an item in the library when I need something reputable to cite. I typically find what I'm looking for in one library or another.
2) I go initially to get something specific, then I'll check out things that catch my eye. For instance, I walked by some oversized books on the way to the checkout counter on my first trip to the library today, and looked through them. They were mostly books on flight.
3) I'll browse beyond what I'm looking for if there's some reason to. I'll look in the immediate area around my selection for similar subject matter coverage, but if there are no signs, displays, etc, I'll typically bounce.
4) I like navigating the collection via computer. I love librarians (ahem, username), but I'm a lot faster on the computer than they are, because I know a bunch of different keywords and I'm fairly certain I use their catalog more than they do.
5) It's pretty easy to navigate the libraries I go to, but the problem comes when there is similar subject matter and you find things on the same subject in two different places, but there's no hint on the shelves that similar subject matter is located elsewhere.
6) If I was the only person, there would be a subject layout with tags and a virtual interface. It would look something like a page. If I'm interested in the history of something, I want to see all sorts of related books, not just other histories. What would be gone that is there now?-Narrow aisles? What would be there that now isn't?- A better system for handling DVD's.
7) I was surprised to learn my library offered movies for download on your computer.
posted by sociolibrarian at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2007

Things I want:

Great maps of the interior space of the library -- big, easy to find in predictable locations (eg near stairs), easy to read/understand. (I want a detective novel - where should I look? I want a book about 20th c art -- where should I look? etc. Give call numbers and some English clues about what I will find in a given area.)

Easily accessible and usable computer catalog searches, online and at terminals that are front-and-center in the library itself.

Lately I've been using the public library mainly for audiobooks. It's hard to find good ones, and I'll only listen once so I don't buy them as often as I buy books.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:09 PM on September 29, 2007

1) The public library here is my default place to locate everything. And usually they do have everything.

2) About 70% of the things I check out are things I've put on hold ahead of time. Browsing through, say the graphic novel section, can be fruitful.

3) 'Browsing beyond' often happens at the monthly special section with books handpicked by librarians in a certain theme. ('Banned books' was one, for instance.) I also like looking through carts that hold books to be shelved.

4) I prefer navigation myself since I do enjoy browsing through the stacks.

5) By now yes I know my local library layout very well.

6) Given that I don't browse that much, a good collection and convenient inter-library loan system are more important to me than library layout.

7) Museum passes to museums in town.

A larger audiobook collection would be on my wishlist as well.
posted by of strange foe at 9:21 PM on September 29, 2007

1. When my children were little, we went to the library every few weeks. We could check out 10 children's books at a time - certainly there was no way we could afford that variety or want to have books permanently around the house. I would usually sneak off and grab one or two for myself.

Now that the kids are older, the problem is to find time to get to the library (20-30 min drive in completely different direction from any of my usual routes.)

Now I go when there is a particular book that I want to read but don't feel the need to own. I use the on-line catalog to reserve the book or find which branch would have it. I have access to two different library systems so I can usually find what i want. I generally only buy (rather than use the library) fiction when i travel because I like paperbooks (smaller, lighter) and the option of leaving them behind.

2/3. Once I get there, I usually browse for a couple of extra books. (Usually fiction)

I usually find my own books and I'm very comfortable with Dewey decimal once I figure out how the library is laid out.

Three things that really nice bonuses - very comfortable chairs for reading, a child-friendly section (with clear boundaries so the kids know the limits) and a quiet work section with tables and access to the power and the Internet. (When my son is home from college he often goes to the library to read/think/get work done.) Meeting rooms for study groups would be a nice bonus (our libraries are heavily used after school by friends who need to talk while they study.)
posted by metahawk at 9:23 PM on September 29, 2007

I use one of the smaller branches of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).

1) Grad school - i.e., I don't have money to spend on books/DVDs/DVD rentals/CDs. If I want to get my hands on a book/CD/DVD, the library is the first place I look, always. The fact that I can search the library's catalog online from home/school is great.

2) Usually I go in with something specific that I want, and I have checked online to make sure it's actually on the shelf. When I get there, I almost always browse within that subject area, as well as within others depending on mood (e.g., cookbooks, graphic novels, etc.). It's easier to browse non-fiction books than fiction, simply because in NF like is grouped with like, while in fiction everything is alphabetical by author.

3) I browse beyond my "target items" almost always. Usually this happens because I am nearly incapable of making a library visit an in/out type of thing. For me, it's a treat to be in a library and just wander. Maybe a little bit similar to the hyperlinking aspect of the world wide web - you start looking at things, then something sparks you to wonder "do they have anything about that?" and the search continues. Also, borrowing stuff from the library is my opportunity for feeling rich - it's not like going to the bookstore, when I know I can't really afford anything. At the library, I can borrow whatever is available, and if I don't end up reading it I haven't wasted any money.

4) I usually don't ask the librarians for help finding something (nothing against them - I have an ALA-accredited degree in inf. science myself). This has less to do with the library than with my aversion to asking people for help more generally. Whenever I have something specific in mind, I always use the catalog. I vastly prefer to do this at home, and come in with the call numbers already written down. I'm not sure why I do this - there's just something about the convenience of it that I like.

5) The branch library I presently use is small, all on one floor, and there's not a whole lot of navigation required. More generally, I think "signage" is very important in making sure libraries are user-friendly. I like when sections of the library are clearly labeled with large signs. They need to look professional, though - nothing made with glitter and magic markers and no straight edges. A pet peeve of mine is when signs aren't updated to reflect changes in shelving, etc. For the sake of your OCPD-minded patrons, please keep the signs up-do-date.

6) (I'm going to change this question to "what do you like/not like about your local library?")


- They switched from using jewel cases to plastic locking cases for CDs. Probably reduces theft and, maybe, damage to CDs.

- They seem to get recently-released music and movies on a regular basis (though not as much of either as I'd like!). I can request books from any branch, and pick them up locally within 2-3 days.

- Recently expanded hours - they're open until 8pm M-Th.

- Emailed reminders of due dates, "hold is ready to pick up," and overdue items.

- Library seems to be used by a cross-section of people - I see people of all ages, and people from the various ethnic groups in the neighborhoods around the library.

- When I ask them for help, the librarians and staff are usually very helpful, polite, and friendly.


- There is no easy way to suggest items for purchase (that I know of). I think there is an email address someplace that I can use, but I'd rather have an anonymous, quick way to do this. If this was available, I'd make a lot of suggestions. I don't want to be the weird patron who suggested 10 books and 7 DVDs last month (but I would like some of them to appear on the shelves...). Patrons should be able to make suggestions both online and on paper at the library.

- Certain categories of items are represented in my branch's collection, and others are underrepresented (or virtually absent). The branch is small, I get that, and they don't have an unlimited budget. Are they checking though to see how much materials in specific categories are borrowed, and then adjusting their purchases as necessary? Sometimes it seems like this is related not only to the ethnicity/age/interests of the patrons, but of the staff as well - e.g., there are lots of pop/rock CDs, but a lot less in rap/R&B. Almost no Spanish language music. There's a ton of manga, but not as many graphic novels - I always wonder if this is representative of what patrons are interested in, or if someone on the staff just thought it was a good idea.

- I can't figure out if ILL is available, or if it is, how to use it. Most of the books I want to borrow are owned by LAPL, so I can request to have them sent to my branch. I don't have any idea if ILL is an option for the books that LAPL doesn't own, however. I know I can ask someone about this (and eventually will), but I shouldn't have to dig for this information.

- Music/movies from other branches can't be requested through inter-library loan - there may be a good reason for this, but it means that I would have to drive across LA to borrow some of the stuff I'd like to hear/watch (needless to say I don't, and I end up wondering whether the librarians at my branch are racist, clueless, or just giving the patrons what they want).

- A lot of kids hang out at the library after school which is great, but sometimes it's annoying when they get all squealy. The main reason this is annoying is that the library is basically one big room. If I want to study or read, I know not to do that at the library at 3:30pm on a weekday.

- More places to curl up and read.

- If you're going to purchase a tv show/movie with sequels, don't purchase season 1 and never follow up. This kills me. It's such an obvious purchase, but the fact that there are instances of this at my library relegates them back to "old-school, out of touch library" status. Don't get me hooked on Nip/Tuck and then never purchase seasons 2-3 (I actually made a suggestion for this, but that didn't seem to make a difference.)

- Ask for feedback from the users. Just like this. I've never seen that they are doing this in any way.

- UPDATE the online catalog. This is easily the worst thing about the LAPL system. I can do limited searches within a specific branch, but only for books (and only by keyword or author). I want to know which CDs/DVDs are available AT MY BRANCH. Because I can't request these items through inter-library loan, and I'm not willing to drive 20 miles to borrow a DVD, I don't care if the Chinatown branch has 2 copies of the movie I want to see. It doesn't do me any good to know that. I have tried to search only for DVDs at my branch in the online catalog, but this never works. If I could search, BY FORMAT, within my branch's holdings ONLY, I would be elated.

- Like many others, I bookmark stuff I want to read/watch/hear on amazon. If the library catalog had a feature like this integrated into it, that would be AMAZING. That way, I could look at my list, click on an item, and see whether it was available at my branch, or if it's available for a hold from another branch. Come to think of it, in combination with being able to search ONLY the holdings of my branch, this would make me think of the online catalog not as an annoyance, but as a pleasure to use.

- A coffeeshop in the library would be wonderful and amazing. Michigan State University's main library has this (and a designated area where you can study/read and drink your coffee), and I love it. I've seen this in other libraries, also. It makes the library a far more viable place for me to work than it otherwise would be.

- I've never seen this at a library, but temporary storage lockers where you can lock up your stuff while you use the restroom, take a walk around the block, etc. would be fantastic. That way, if you're going to the library to study, you don't have to drag your stuff with you wherever you go (more important in larger libraries, I suppose).

7) Free Wi-Fi at all 72 libraries of the LAPL!
posted by splendid animal at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2007

It's been a while since I've been to the public library (though I do frequent my university library), but here are my answers based on the times I frequent it when I'm back home:

1) I have a peculiar system on deciding whether to check out a book from the library or just buy it. Essentially, I check out stuff that is under 500 pages (because I can't read that much in a two week loan period, realistically speaking), stuff I can't find on Amazon or any place like's kinda hard to explain my whole rationale.

2) I'm into economics so I usually browse the economic section. I'm more likely to browse at my university library than the public library, but I have found myself spending quite some time browsing the shelves at both. I also spend some time browsing the literature section.

3) Yes, usually I'll think about something else that interests me and I'll go browse that section.

4) Computer catalog definitely, especially at the public library. With an actual librarian, you have to wait in line, tell them the book you want, spell out the name, author, etc., then they get the book. With the online catalog, I skip the middleman and find that all out myself.

5) Even at the public library, it's really easy. 100-600 of the Dewey Decimal System is on the second floor, the rest plus reference, videos, audiobooks, periodicals, etc. on the first. My university library is even easier - A-M of the Library of Congress on the 4th floor, N-Z on the 3rd, periodicals on the second, and reference, new fiction, videos, and some special collections (like this section of just business books).
Either way, very easy to get the flow in both cases.

6) I'd want a quiet study lounge with study carrels and maybe a few comfy reading chairs.

7) The only thing my public library offered that surprised me was a quiet "adult" study room (as in no screaming little kids running around allowed), mostly filled with old periodicals, genealogy books, and the like.
posted by champthom at 9:35 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I very rarely buy books because it's hard to justify paying $10 for a book when I generally don't read it more than once or twice, so I appreciate being able to check out books for free. I'd say the library has what I'm looking for maybe 70% of the time.

2) Most of the time I'm after something specific or end up browsing an area I'm interested in to see if anything strikes me.

3) No, not really.

4) I like using the catalog myself - I almost never ask sales clerks, etc. for help, and the library is the same way. I guess I just prefer to do something like that for myself rather than bugging someone else to do it.

5) It's not a huge building, and I usually stay in the nonfiction and DVD sections myself, but yeah, I'm fine with the layout and know where everything else is.

6) If I were the only person, hopefully that would be reason enough for them to keep better track of books after I return them! Several times they've misplaced a book after I returned it, or somehow didn't get around to checking it in until it was overdue so I "owed" them money. :-\ Other than that, I can't really think of anything I'd like changed, other than having a larger selection.

7) I was surprised to see their website lets you search the catalog and see what's currently available in the system. Guess for some reason I expected that to be something you could only access in the library. It's nice being able to see what's available and reserve books from home.
posted by flod logic at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2007

I typically go to my little neighborhood library (just 3 blocks from home, yeh!) once a week. I pick up a few DVDs for the week which I rarely end up watching. I often end up browsing for a new book to read (fiction). Rarely do I find random fiction book to read but occasionally I do. I often reserve nonfiction books from home that I need for research or are just areas that interest me. I usually pick up these books on my weekly forays but sometimes I make a special trip.

The library is easily laid out but it is tiny so that isn't too hard. The one thing that I wish they would do (and I need to suggest this to someone there) is to do something to lift the DVD case off the floor or only use the top shelves. I'm 6'4" so I have to kneel on the ground to read the bottom row of DVDs I don't know what elderly or disabled folks do.

I was surprised to find out that my library has reading dogs come (dogs that kids read to) and I think it is awesome. I go to the library because I am poor and I don't want all these stupid DVDs and books anyways and I like the community feel of the place.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:11 PM on September 29, 2007

I'd go to the library more if it were open longer hours. Our library closes at 6, except for two days it's open until 8.

Bookstores are open until 10 at least.

Bookstores have a predictable selection. Our library really doesn't.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:32 PM on September 29, 2007

1) I nearly always find what I'm looking for at the library, or I just stop looking for it. I test-drive books at the library and buy them at the bookstore.
2) I go for a specific book rarely, and more likely for an author or genre.
3) I don't browse much--I know what I want.
4) I'm a library student--I can probably find it myself and would rather not embarrass myself by asking.
5) Yes, easily, though put that down to experience and training. My current local library (Westwood, part of the LA Public system) has a horrible layout.
6) I'd move the reference desk to somewhere a little more discreet. Dead center of an echo-y library does not promote patron willingness to ask questions.
7) A little keychain-size library card, along with the big one (so you can use it like a club card).

Oh, and the professional info on library usage can be really interesting! I know it's not what you're looking for here, but please don't discount it entirely...
posted by librarylis at 11:07 PM on September 29, 2007

I nearly always check the library's online catalog to see if they have any book that I'm considering buying, or even just something that I've seen mentioned online and am thinking about reading, or find interesting. My library has a nice feature where you can put books on a 'personal list' to keep track of them, and then easily print the list or reserve/hold a book. I use this pretty extensively.

Evening hours are a must. Anything that's only open weekdays 9-5 is less than useless to me (and pretty much anyone else with a job, so unless your target audience is the unemployed...). 9 or 10PM is nice, at least some nights per week, since it means I can go after dinner.

Things libraries do that really suck: my major pet peeve is places that charge for inter-library loans. I recently moved from a state that had a great statewide ILL network to one where each county has its own system and it costs $5 and takes up to 12 weeks to get a book from the next county over. This is stupid -- the better ILL system you have, the better you can serve your patrons and the more efficiently you can allocate resources (since each library doesn't need to completely duplicate the collection of every other county's library). Also not clearly labeling shelves/stacks is confusing and results in a lot of extra work for librarians.

When I go to the library it's almost always with a printout from the website or a list of books in hand, and I'll get those books before browsing. Most libraries are set up for finding particular books rather than browsing, but this is OK. I think it's helpful to have separate "browsing areas" from the main stacks, with books selected and presented bookstore-fashion by topical category. Lists compiled by 'experts' (think Amazon's listmania) are fun, too.

I always try to find what I'm looking for myself without involving the staff. If I have to get help, I think the library has failed in a way, since it should be clear enough for a reasonably intelligent person to find materials without professional assistance. If you need a degree to find a book in the stacks, something's wrong.

Almost every library I've ever been in could have benefited by bigger/more/clearer signage about sections (Fiction, etc.). Some are worse than others, but most libraries of reasonable size require a map to navigate the first time: this seems like it would be unnecessary if they were better marked.

I don't really care that much about the physical layout of the library; some of my favorite libraries have been of the old wrought-iron mesh floor and circular-stairway variety (sadly totally handicapped-inaccessible, and probably an endangered species as a result), as long as everything is clearly marked and easy to find, I'm of the opinion that a library should have character, and feel like more than just a 'book warehouse.'

Ultimately I think the best way to try to satisfy the dual needs of people who want to find a particular volume out of a large catalog quickly, and others who want to browse, is to not try and satisfy both of them in the same place. My recommendation is to have browsing/reading areas, set up like bookstores (lots of chairs, low shelves, covers not spines out), separate from the main high-density stack areas. That way, 'browsers' can page through and discover new books in an un-intimidating atmosphere, and 'searchers' can get the material they want with maximum efficiency.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:20 PM on September 29, 2007

What I love is the website that lets me search from home, and integration with Library Elf, which is a service that any library can get. It monitors my account and e-mails me to tell me when my holds are in, a couple of days before they are due back (self-configurable), and if I ever let a book get overdue (which I don't), it would e-mail me daily reminders to return it. Oh, and it's a small town library, but it was awesome when I hadn't been there for years and the librarian still remembered my name.

Put storytime in a conference room, please!

I generally prefer looking things up myself and finding them myself, although at the bigger libraries in our county, I generally ask the librarian to point me in the right direction.

I rarely browse, I usually know what I'm coming for and get it, or if needed, place a hold. 99% of the time I've found the book on Amazon and then go to my library's site and look for it there. The thing that would make me browse more is if it was set up like a Barnes & Noble or a Borders... if instead of just Nonfiction, it was split into cookbooks, humor, history, etc. That may not be possible with the Dewey Decimal System, but otherwise I don't like browsing because I rarely find anything I want.

Another thing I don't like - the website that lets me search from home lets me make a list of books to take out, but it automatically erases the list after 90 days, no matter how many times I edit it after that.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:00 AM on September 30, 2007

Amendment: Any library can get Library Elf if their computer system is compatible.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:01 AM on September 30, 2007

1. For most books and DVDs, I will look first at the library. Our library is pretty big and has a large quantity of materials which is constantly updated with new things. I support the library with donations even though it supported by tax dollars.

2. Either/or. I also do research at the library so use their extensive archival holdings.

3. I have a few interests so look through the stacks in those areas to find interesting things.

4. If I'm looking for something specific the computer catalog is the way to go. I have never had to go to a librarian for help except in the archive collection of historical materials.

5. It is arranged by Dewey Decimal and is one big hall. I have no problems finding things except when they do an overhaul and re-arrange shelves. DVDs are arranged either by feature films alphabetically or non-fiction by Dewey Decimal.

6. It works fine for me. Any system will take some time for the user to learn. I can find anything I need and always enjoy exploring anyways.

7. I am happy that the library offers an exceptionally up-to-date selection of DVDs, some of which I can not find at Blockbuster. It is nicely eclectic.
posted by JJ86 at 5:53 AM on September 30, 2007

BTW, this is my library.
posted by JJ86 at 5:54 AM on September 30, 2007

One other thing I just remember that I love about my library is the ability to remotely access a huge number of databases and ebooks with your library card. Sometimes it's great to be able to use your computer to get lots of library materials.
posted by JJ86 at 5:56 AM on September 30, 2007

I no longer go to the library because I have paid hundreds of dollars in late fees over the past few years. I would go back if the library would send me e-mail notices about due dates: "Your books are due in two days"; "Your books are due tomorrow"; "Your books are due today"; "Your books are overdue."

Until then, it's cheaper for me to buy books.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2007

Our OPAC is a disaster. It takes two or three tries to get it to narrow a search, as some of the options only seem to work in a particular sequence. I see bittorrent tracker sites with more convenient search facilities.

I am another library patron who goes for the audio books. I drive about four hours a day (110 mile commute to/from work), and my local library system stocks a large selection from The Teaching Company's catalog, as well as a series or two from Knowledge Products and The Modern Scholar (which is also sold under B&N's Portable Professor imprint).

My only unfulfilled desire is more educational/instructional/how-to DVDs along the line of SmartFlix.

At the neighborhood level, it would be nice to set up a tool lending library.
posted by willconsult4food at 9:45 AM on September 30, 2007

(Is this really an appropriate question for AskMeFi?)

Me as a consumer: I like to be entertained, and I am slightly lazy.

1) It's free! If I have something specific in mind, I generally find it. If I want to find "something cool to read," I have less success.

2) I go to the library to get movies or to pick up a specific book that I've heard about. Hanging out and seeing what looks neat has not worked for me. I use the online catalogue at home before I go. (Maybe if those were equipped with a "If you like this, you may also like..." tool, browsing would be easier.)

3) I tend to get caught by the sections I pass on my way to what I'm looking for but I would never check out any of those books (self-help, finance...).

Here's my problem with libraries: They are not like bookstores. When I go to a bookstore, I can get stuck for hours. All of the books look so interesting. At the library, it's like the interesting books have been spread out among books that I've never heard of, books that don't seem interesting, that I don't have any desire to explore. I'll admit that I'm pretty lazy - but aren't most customers? I guess I'm most likely to get stuck browsing in the youth section. Young Adult books are awesome. They're interesting, and they're all in one place. And a lot of them are paperbacks, which I like better. Because I am shallow.

4) At my public library, I like to find the books myself. When a librarian helps me, I feel like I'm just tagging along or taking up their time. At my middle/high school library, though, I think I definitely would have asked the librarian to help. Our librarians were nice, talkative people. I wouldn't have asked for help for the purpose of finding a book, but to have a conversation along the way.

5) Navigation is pretty good at the local libraries. The ones with lower shelves are easier to navigate, while those with higher shelves work best when there are big signs hanging from the ceiling. And signs with arrows pointing where to go. Everywhere. One of our libraries has rows and rows of identical shelves that house books of several different types. It's hard to distinguish between the sections.

6) One of the local libraries puts neat books on little displays at the ends of rows. That's good, because it makes them easier for people to see. It's also bad because it makes it harder to find the books. If you're going to move books from their places, is it possible to leave a little card or something in their place?

I would put movies :) toward the front. A way bigger section of books that I would actually want to read - again, toward the front. (The grocery store strategy of putting desirable items toward the back doesn't make sense unless the items you pass on your way are also desirable.) My library has lots of nice places to sit, which is great. It also has a section for librarians' favorite books.

7) A screen telling us the local weather.

General suggestion: Stay open later. Our libraries close at 5 or 5:30. A lot of people don't get home from work until that time.
posted by ramenopres at 11:02 AM on September 30, 2007

Response by poster: (Is this really an appropriate question for AskMeFi?)

60+ people (including *ahem* you) seem to think so.

I am looking to solve a concrete problem, and am soliciting solutions based on people's experience.

I think the feedback so far has been excellent. Thanks everyone!
posted by Rykey at 12:39 PM on September 30, 2007

1) Library index is an online source for me, so I go there first. Purchase is only when the book is needful instantly, is otherwise hard to find, will make a permanent presence in my own library
2) I go for specifics and let serendipity follow.
3) I do browse beyond original intent. How? I wonder as I wander
4) I only ask for help if the item is missing or comes from another library.
5) Small library, pretty easy.
6) Okay, here I'll go off beam a little with a few peeves. I don't like pandering in modern libraries. That is, multiple copies of Harry Potter and his ilk. Every copy of Grisham bought is a copy of, say, a Loeb translation, or an Oxford reference, or (assuming multple Grisham copies, which I have seen) a serious art book beyond the reach of mortal pocketbooks. The people want Ludlum? Fine. Encourage the first adopters to donate their first week copies to the library- it's not like these are going to be re-read and treasured, is it? (Same goes with DVDs, by the way.) Travel guides don't make much sense to me, either. If you can afford to travel to Fiji, or China, or Italy, you can afford to buy a damn book prior to your trip. Moreover, since these things tend to go stale in a year or so anyway, they represent a waste of library money. Travel sections should have Paul Theroux, Pausanias, Marco Polo, Mary Kingsley, not Arthur Frommer. Eternal things, or as close to, is what you want in a book, not rotting fish.

Snobbish? You bet. But my feeling is that the library as resource should go for the best society offer, that it should at least have the material for a college freshman essay in most any subject. I know libraries where they have shelves devoted to James Patterson and not a single copy of the works of Jane Austen. This is just not right. You want schlock (and I like it from time to time), buy your own.

7) I would be surprised if much of my rant ever made it past committee. But I would ask the committee to look at itself and ask if it considers itself in a leadership position, entrusted with a duty towards the community, or if it's just phoning it in and handing out literary McWhoppers.

THus endeth the rant.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:00 PM on September 30, 2007

Response by poster:

[...]my feeling is that the library as resource should go for the best society offer, that it should at least have the material for a college freshman essay in most any subject. I know libraries where they have shelves devoted to James Patterson and not a single copy of the works of Jane Austen. This is just not right.

This is a cultural problem, not a clueless library problem. Many, if not most, librarians could not agree more with your feelings. Unfortunately, a very simple but very powerful twofold principle is at work with regard to the funding of public libraries in the USA:
1) Citizens consistently demand lower taxes from their elected officials, and the library is a prime target for the spending cuts that make tax cuts possible
2) Thanks to this same anti-tax mindset at work in public education and the arts, the public is, in general, far too uncultured to value much beyond the latest James Patterson novel or Hollywood blockbuster

Therefore, we are forced to pander to middle class taxpayers and their tastes if we stand a chance in hell of getting even the same funding we did the previous year (which usually doesn't happen anyhow). We literally look at spreadsheets that show us how many requests have been made for which library items, and follow a formula for ordering multiple copies based on demand. If we were to stray much beyond this practice, we'd be out of a job (either because we weren't following policy, or because that library was closed down).

Do this the next time you're at the library. Ask a librarian to pull up the screen on his/her computer that shows the number of checkouts on a Grisham novel. Then ask him/her to do the same with something by Chaucer, Twain, or Bronte.


posted by Rykey at 7:20 AM on October 1, 2007

I must second (or third?) Library Elf it has saved me countless $$$ on fines. It just plain works! In case you dont know what it is, here is an excerpt:

"Track your library books. Let Elf help you manage your library loans and holds. Avoid overdues with email alerts, Check multiple library cards, Track books, DVDs, CDs, videos, etc."

All this for FREE!
posted by Wezzlee at 8:04 AM on October 1, 2007

Sorry I'm late to the party. My library.

1) I always check the library first. I'm poor. If I read a book and really like it, then I'll buy it. Or if the library doesn't have it and I really, really need/want it, which is fairly rare.

2) All of the above, probably equally, and usually mixed together. I've mostly read all of the known quantity books, so I usually use librarything to find something promising that the library has, and then keep an eye out/browse for any random finds while I'm there.

3) Yes, depends on how much time I have, how I'm feeling, how inspired I am today. Say 10-30 minutes.

4) I like doing it by myself, it's just faster. Librarians are for special problems only.

5) Sometimes the different sections of DVDs are difficult to find in my library... Especially since they just reorganized them. -grumble grumble- Finding actual books is never a problem, though.

6) I (and 90% of people I've met) would like more DVDs. I'd also like a better option to stay logged in to the catalog on your home computer (it's possible to finesse it now, but I think it would be beyond most normal people--and it's not very safe since it involves storing your password in a bookmark as plain text). Otherwise my library seems OK now.

7) I'm always shocked that they don't open until 10 and stay open until 9... It seems kind of backward for a public service... otoh, I can't say I'm unhappy with it, morning sucks.

The website/catalog is probably the most important part of the library for me right now. I can check and see if a book is there without going in, if it's not at my particular branch I can easily (two clicks--one to confirm which branch to deliver it to and one to place the hold) have it fetched. If all the copies are checked out or if it is on order (they don't actually have copies yet) I can (two clicks) put it on hold. I can also see how many people are ahead of me in the queue for each book on hold, which books I've got checked out, when they're due (including one click renew), and how much I owe in fines.... All from home. Oh, and the website address is on library cards, for people who haven't mastered bookmarks. And they offer an option to send e-mails instead of phone calls for holds, nearly due notification, etc.
posted by anaelith at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2007

The two main things that keep me from visiting my public library are their hours of operation and their lack of parking. Due to my work schedule it's difficult for me to get there other than on weekends, and the library shares a parking facility with city hall and the high school, and it's always a challenge to find parking there, even on weekends.

Also, now that I work at an academic library, I get all my library materials through my job.

Now that I've had that little rant, I'll answer your questions.
1) If I'm not sure I want to buy the book I'll read it from the library first.
2) I generally get my books through ILL or holds, so when I go, I get something specific, and if I have some spare time I'll browse the collection while I'm there.
3) Usually I'll check out a few specific areas to see if anything catches my eye.
4) I do it myself, because I'm a librarian (but not a public librarian).
5) It's very easy.
6) There would be ample parking, longer weekend and evening hours.
posted by bryghtrose at 9:25 AM on October 1, 2007

Stuff I forgot: My library is very modern, and I like it. Talking is fine. There are specific quiet rooms for studying (with desks and things) where it is very, very quiet, but the majority of the library is relaxed. They just added self check out stands, like at the grocery store, which are great except regular library users who would use them the most often can't--because they have a book on hold behind the counter, or they're checking out a DVD which is stored separately as a theft prevention device... understandable, just mildly annoying. They have about a dozen computers for internet use, and you're required to use the computerized queue to use one...they seem very popular, but I don't use them. And then there's a dozen computers which are catalog only, which is great since you never have to wait in line behind someone who's playing games. There's wireless. Oh, and most branches are close to major grocery stores, which seems unconnected but makes it easy to drop off books while you're already out.
posted by anaelith at 9:30 AM on October 1, 2007

I currently work and use a variety of different libraries, from large urban ones to small rural ones. My observations on what works:

1) There are not a lot of bookshops in my area, books are expensive and I like obscure reference materials.
2) All three.
3) Yes, I never just run in to grab my holds but I know some people do. A room of books? I gotta stop and look.
4) I use both, especially if I want to know what books are popular with a certain age group. Librarian know their collections very well and I like chatting with them.
5) Nope, most libraries are terrible at merchandising their collections are refuse to outsource basics like layout design and signage. Paper print-out signs are my pet peeve, they look like crap and show how much the library values the people reading the signs. No librarian seems to have read Paco Underhill or looked at a looked at a graphic design book. They can't even harmonise the fonts. And what is up with library language? Circulation, terminals, reference.
6) One of the libraries offers laptop signout (for in-house use for one hour). I love it, it is a much better use of space than desktops and because it disperses the internet users so that quiet users can find a quiet corner and the gamers can congregate together.
7) Customer service attitude is key. Are staff petty power tyrants or are they trying to genuinely help patrons use the library effectively? Are policies customer centred? At one of my libraries I was working the information desk with three other librarians and we did not have any patrons (and so were chatting about our personal lives). I looked over my shoulder and noticed there was only one person at the check-out desk with a line-up of 20 people. When I hopped over and started serving customers I was serverely repremanded, apparently the needs of the customers are trumpeted by the rules of the library and despite my years of education and experience in libraries I am not qualified to check out books [rolls eyes]. I hate it when I ask one staff member to help solve a problem (find a book, get a library card, explain my fine) and I am referred to someone else, usually working at another desk a long walk away. I'm here now, you have the same computer system in front of you, just answer the darn question!

Someone upthread praised the two level library that had a set of stairs going down to the children's floor and another up to the adult floor. One of my libraries has that same layout. I agree it is great for mobile adults but it simply does not work for parents of young children in strollers and car seats, seniors who have difficulty navigating stairs or anyone with a mobility problem.
posted by saucysault at 4:08 AM on October 2, 2007


I did say it was a rant.

You're right, of course, but there's a distressing note of defeatism in your comment. Surely there is room for subversion? Maybe ten percent, hell, even five percent of the budget for good stuff? A campaign to get the hardcover Grishams from generous patrons who would toss them out otherwise? Should not librarians hand sell overlooked titles the way independent bookstores do?

Fight back, inspire the dull masses, be a leader, not a follower!

Here's another gripe for you- those stupid time stamp cards shoved in the pockets. The ones that always fall out. Back in the day, library books had pasted check-in time slips on whihc the due date was printed/written in. These had the advantage of letting the curious reader know how often and when last a given book was checked out. Interesting information now lost to the user forever.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:28 AM on November 11, 2007

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