Approachability Buttons

I wanted to make up and wear a button on my lanyard that made it clear to shy or reluctant patrons that I'm at the library to help. Yesterday on Twitter, I asked folks which text would make them feel more welcome and able to ask the questions they needed to ask: "Ask me" or "I can help."

@amycrea suggested "I love questions!" as an alternative.

@lloydsoldout gave great, thoughtful feedback: "I Can Help sounds easier. Ask means I have to do something."

@MelissaZD wrote, "What about 'I like to help?'" I loved this modification, because, as we all know, sometimes we CAN'T help--but those of us who are passionate about what we do always want the opportunity to try.

I finished the below today on my lunch break--they're available at Shelf Check's tiny Zazzle store at the base price ($1.95 each--I make 5 cents per), where you can customize them (change fonts, colors, even text), too.

*NOTE: Zazzle often has sales, so always head to RetailMeNot to check for coupon codes before shopping there. There's currently a 25% off sale on buttons, with the expiration date listed as 9/30/2014. The code: SELFEXPREZZZ. I also recommend checking out Zazzle Black if you think you'll be shopping there more than once--whether it's my stuff, someone else's designs, or making your own stuff (it's easy and I've found their products to be of high quality). With it, you can get a year of free standard shipping for $9.95. I've done it for years.

As these "approachability buttons" go, I think "I like to help" suits me best. Which, if any, appeals to you? Can you think of other, more effective phrases?


"I LOVE QUESTIONS (gray argyle)

"ASK ME" (Magic 8-ball-inspired)

"I like to help."


Circulating Ideas, Episode 42

Steve Thomas recently interviewed me for an episode of his fabulous Circulating Ideas: the Librarian Interview Podcast. I've embedded it below, but if you're new to the podcast, please check out circulatingideas.com for earlier episodes. Steve's hosted a wide range of libraryfolk (and honorary ones, like Cory Doctorow and Clive Thompson), and CI episodes have taken on everything from gender issues in libraries to the state of the MLIS to storytime to marketing to LibraryBox. There's a lot of good listening there.

In this episode, Steve and I talk about Shelf Check's origins, being visibly queer-friendly at the library, "heartwarming portraits of bus drivers," Creative People Must Be Stopped, Unshelved, and more.


"Why do you love your library?" is NOT Community Engagement: Better Questions to Ask During National Library Week

A few weeks ago, I blogged and tweeted about a participatory display--"Why Did You Come to the Library Today?"--that yielded a great response at my library. What I failed to include in the post was WHY I think it was successful, and as National Library Week 2014 approaches and I begin to see libraries gearing up for "Why do you love your library?" campaigns, it seems like a good time to follow up.

"Why do you love the library?", "Tell us why you love your library!", and "Why are you proud of your library?", wherever I've seen them, don't often generate diverse responses or engage diverse patrons. They're mainly answered by the same sorts of loyal library fans that like your library's every Facebook post, and like each other, too. Such "community engagement" prompts feel more like "We need pleasant quotes we can use in our annual report--help us out?" than "We're interested in you and this community, and in how the library helps and can better help you. We're proud of what you accomplish with the tools we provide."

They're also abstract, compared to the concreteness of "Why did you come to the library today?" The latter can be answered easily even by folks who don't necessarily love the library but came here anyway because they needed our services (which might be, sorry folks, quite a few public library patrons).

(more images)

Cumulatively, the different responses to this concrete question raised patron (and staff) awareness of how our community uses the library and the varied ways in which the library provides value to the town--and also a more general awareness of what's going on in the community (who knew we had a "PONY CLUB" that unofficially meets here?) and the community's dreams ("get into MIT" "to learn how to help mamas give birth" "to get my 1st nursing job!") It painted a picture of our community, and got us enthused about what people are accomplishing in our building and with our tools.

So, a suggestion: when asking engagement questions during National Library Week (or any time), make the focus concrete, not abstract, and focus on the patrons, not the library—because that’s where the true stories lie. "Why did you come to the library today?" is an in-building question for physical displays“What have you learned at your library?” works both in-building and online. Don't ask "Why are you proud of your library?" but "What are you proud of that the library helped you accomplish?" (in sentiment, not in those awkward words). 

Chances are, you've seen artist Candy Chang's viral "Before I Die" participatory public art project before--either online or in real life (I think a version even turned up at PLA):

How about trying a wall or poster at the library (and a Facebook post) with, instead of the "Before I die I want to ____"  prompt,

"This year, my library helped me  _____________."


"This year, my library helped me to ____________."

I think the answers you receive will be a lot more varied, moving, inspiring, and useful than answers to "Why do you love your library?"

UPDATE:The official 2015 National Library Week slogan is "Unlimited possibilities @ your library"--so a natural question to ask in a participatory display is "What has the library made possible for you?"


Shelf Check #535

Shelf Check 535