Computer scientists and drug dealers have users

Ever since I started working in libraries one thing has troubled me – what do we call the people who use our service? Where I used to work the most common term was Reader, but this for some reason always felt a bit odd and slightly pretentious to me. Working in an academic library I will often refer to them by their status at the University but this causes problems if you want to refer to them as the group as a whole. I don’t like calling them customers as they don’t pay us directly for the service we provide. What else can we call them?

This week I listened to R. David Lankes’ presentation The Librarian Militant, The Librarian Triumphant. At around 19 minutes he has an aside (from which the title of this post is taken) in which he expresses his opinion regarding this question:

By the way I will not use the word patron because we don’t pay them to paint or rather I guess receive money from them to paint. I don’t think they’re customers, I don’t think they’re consumers and god knows they’re not users. Right? Computer scientists and drug dealers have users, we do not. They’re members. If you ask them, and we do this all the time. If you go and ask the people in your library what should we call you? They look at you and go member; I got a card, I pay taxes. It’s a sense of ownership. Why don’t we give them that? They’re members.

So let’s add member to the mix. I like it and I have to say I think for the first time I feel some sense of closure on this question. But I’m interested in what you think… so here’s a question for you, what do you call the people who use your library? Tell me by responding to this poll.

Update (25/11/10): Voting in the poll is now closed. I’ve written up the results in the post What do you call the people who use your library?

9 thoughts on “Computer scientists and drug dealers have users

  1. @ekcragg member always seems to me more applicable to public libraries? E.g. all students are “members” but some never visit. I say user :/

  2. ‘Member’ has good connotations of belonging and shared purpose, but I prefer ‘reader’ for including visitors who aren’t members.

  3. I totally agree about users, it always makes me think we’re dealers of some kind. We use patrons mostly, or borrowers, but of course some libraries would have far more in the way of electronic resources than borrowable items so maybe it depends?

  4. @joeyanne @ekcragg I agree I say user because then it refers to everyone – staff, students and externals. Never customer! They don’t pay us.

  5. @lexrigby @joeyanne @ekcragg I find customer & patron really cringing. Definitely user or similar

  6. We usually say ‘reader’, but then I work in a reading room that people come to in order to consult, or read, special collections. More generally we tend just to refer to ‘students’ or ‘fellows’, rather than any of the other options. I think our LMS calls them ‘patrons’ but we certainly don’t!

  7. Hello Emma! Have only just discovered R. David Lankes’ presentations. He also uses ‘participants’ in conjunction with ‘members’ in ‘Killing the user and other necessary acts’:

    This video fleshes out the meaning and implication of these terms in the various sectors. Definitely worth a look!

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