Balancing act

Everything in a Youth Services Department of a library is a balancing act these days.  Perhaps I am romanticizing the past (…who am I kidding? Of course I am romanticizing the past!) but I see the library of my childhood as being quiet, peaceful, and filled with beautiful rows and rows of books in order. I am old enough that all you could get were books and magazines.

There’s a sort of purity to that approach that I find appealing, particularly on days when my library is loud and crazy and full of people. But really, it is all about the balance, and I find most of my managerial decisions these days come down to finding the balance.

Loud vs. quiet One of my priorities when we are working on an upcoming renovation is to figure out a way for there to be quiet spaces as well as the loud spaces. I don’t delude myself that designating something as a quiet zone will stop an overtired baby from screaming or a parent from bellowing across the room to their child, but I’m hoping there is still a way to create quiet areas for studying, reading, tutoring, and writing. At the same time, I want to be sure there is room for preschoolers to act like preschoolers, for kids after school to be able to talk above a whisper, and for groups to be able to work on a project together without constant shushing. We need a balance.

Browsing vs. locating titles In one ideal scenario, every book in the library could be in order by Dewey number, and once you knew the number, you could find the book. DVDs might be in title order with no regard to genre or age, television or movies, and once you knew the title, you could find the DVD.

In the other ideal scenario, everything would be set up to look as enticing as possible–books and DVDs facing out so their covers can be seen, picture books in bins so you can flip through them, each topic pulled out so you can browse the self-help or the mysteries. Need a specific title? Good luck with that.

I’ve tried hard at my library to hit the balance with browsing vs. locating titles. Board books for babies are not kept in any order at all, on the theory that babies pull things out and are not very likely to put things back in the right place (and neither are their parents). We have some particularly appealing topics like folktales and ABCs in separate sections so they can be easily located, and our hugely popular series paperbacks are in spinners for easy browsing. But a lot of the rest of the collection is in good ol’ Dewey order. It’s a compromise–some browsing to boost circulation, some specific order to make it possible to locate things when people want them.

I get nervous when libraries move too much in the direction of retail stores. We aren’t stores. The more we call our patrons customers and imitate the retail display models, the more confused our patrons get. Clearly, the more we grow more like a trip to the shopping mall, the more patrons expect to act like they are at the mall. They expect the library to be open the same hours that the mall is open, which would be great, but impossible without getting rid of the librarians.  I think libraries are, even more now, very special places for people to go, with a different feel from the mall.

But it’s all a balancing act.

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