Iris has written a dilly of a blog post about keeping her enthusiasm and optimism for this profession in the face of bitter, crusty librarians who see only the broken side of library users. In light of the idea that “the user is not broken,” I find I have a lot to think about here.
When I was a wee lad, there was a C-list superhero who occasionally appeared in Superman’s comics, Rose and Thorn. Rose Forrest was a demure, glasses-wearing geek of a woman–with a split personality. In certain circumstances, Rose would “black out” and become a green leather-clad hellcat with a snarling face, a mean-tempered, impatient crimefighter called Thorn.
Rose Forrest and her dark alter-ego makes a good metaphor for how I feel much of the time. In general, I’m what you might call a cockeyed optimist (although I don’t really know what “cockeyed” means–sounds a bit weird, whatever it’s meant to imply). I love my specific job, I love the greater profession of being a librarian, and I love the idea that the user is not broken. “The user is not broken.” I usually believe that.
But then I encounter a patron who seems to want to take advantage of what the library has to offer. They look for loopholes in our policies, argue about our rules, and complain when they feel we’re blocking them from their goals.
Sometimes, I feel bad about this. I wonder if we’re being too strict with our policies. I fear that we really are blocking our patrons, using our rules and policies to smack the patrons down, to make them think that the library really belongs to us librarians, not them. Not the grubby, ignorant patrons with their overdue items and unruly children and attempts to look at porn on our computers.
Other times, I think that users in general aren’t broken, but some specific users are. Some users don’t care about their fellow patrons. They don’t want policies changed (or bent slightly) because they think the policy is unfair for everyone, they just think it’s unfair for them. They want to be the exception. They don’t think the library belongs to everyone–they don’t care who it belongs to, they just want to do whatever they want and get away with it, with no responsibilities and no consequences.
Honestly, it’s confusing. I wonder if maybe the answer (or something approximating an answer) is this: I’m nowhere near ready to abandon my enthusiasm and optimism for what I do and what libraries are all about; but for all of our talk about “cluetrain this” and “the user is not broken that,” we have to admit that some users are broken, some just don’t have a clue. I will champion library user empowerment to the best of my ability. But with great power comes great responsibility, and if people don’t want the responsibility, they really shouldn’t have the power. (And you know, I think that goes for librarians, too, and not just library users.)
But in the end, I remain somewhat torn. Just like Rose and Thorn.