The Dynamics of the Librarian-Patron Relationship

I read a blog post earlier this month – Two-way Street by the Feel-good Librarian – which dealt with: Why do patrons sometimes tell us their life stories when we give them information?  She concluded by saying “Information is a gateway.  It’s also a two-way street.”  I agree with her – even for basic requests, we need to interact with our patrons in order to figure out what they know so that we have the best chance of providing them with information that, even if it does not fully answer their queries, will at least direct them where they need to go for further help.  To do that, there usually needs to be some kind of rapport established, otherwise the transaction won’t be as successful as it could’ve been.

But to return to her question about why patrons also tell us about their lives, I think there are several reasons.  One may be what the Feel-good Librarian suggested herself – patrons feel a need to unburden themselves to someone else because they cannot resolve their personal crises without help from another person.  Also, librarians have the reputation of being able to find accurate sources of information, so patrons may feel safer relying on us to point them in the correct direction as opposed to asking friends or family members.  They might see librarians as unbiased third parties who are there specifically to help, and who won’t judge them.  This could make us easier to confide in regarding certain issues because we don’t have our own agendas in the situation, and if we perform our duties ethically, we won’t allow our own personal beliefs to affect how we treat our patrons.  And in some circumstances, it may just come down to how we look or our personalities – perhaps our appearance reminds them of their parents, children, or other people in their lives that they respect and trust.  Or else it could be due to our treating them kindly when they approach us, so they feel we will be sympathetic to what they are going through.

I personally love knowing that my efforts have resulted in providing a patron with helpful, relevant information that he or she may not have been able to uncover otherwise.  Tied to that is another two-way street because through working with patrons, we also learn about information that could solve a future problem of our own.  But there is a risk that just comes as a part of the two-way street of interaction that comes with this job – becoming too emotionally invested in a patron’s problem.  It might be an issue that has touched our own lives, or we, like the patron, see someone we care about in him or her.  I don’t know a foolproof formula to avoid a query mushrooming into something that keeps me up at night, since I still remember some patrons that I spoke with when I was a library page almost ten years ago.  Maybe an answer is just to keep in mind that providing information can’t always completely resolve every question or problem that patrons have, but we can do our part by providing avenues for them to explore.  It is ulitimately up to the patron to decide how to proceed.  We just have to hope that what we did for them made some kind of a difference.

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