Members not Patrons or Users

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  • rdlankes

    Many folks have asked me about the origin of the member term and if there were studies and such. I got it from the brilliant Joan Frye Williams. When I asked her the origin, here is what she told me:


    Infopeople asked George and me to address the patron vs. customer topic in a podcast. I wondered what the people most concerned might say, so I stopped library users in the course of my other consulting work at several public library locations over a period of about a month, and wrote down their responses to this question: “We’re getting ready to write an annual report for the library, and we’re looking for a respectful term to describe the people who take advantage of the library’s services. What term do you think we should use?” I didn’t offer any choice of terms, just asked them what they’d call themselves.

    I got 200+ answers, well over half of which were “members.” Second place, at roughly a quarter of the responses, went to “patrons.” Customers, readers, and taxpayers were also mentioned. A little sidebar – the response teens frequently offered was “uh…people?”

    I had no idea this would turn into anything, and mostly I was trying to make a point about how narrow our view of such things usually is, so I didn’t make any effort to talk to a truly random sample of folks, or even hang onto my notes after the podcast. Nor did I share any numbers in the original podcast – this certainly wasn’t anything like hard data. I didn’t start talking about the numbers until the initial conversation got such a strong reaction and folks challenged me to justify my comments. So, alas, there’s nothing in particular to cite. I suppose one could repeat the experiment. I’ve also heard informally that some libraries have put up multiple choice surveys offering a range of terms, and that “patron” has come out ahead in a couple of those.

    For what it’s worth, the podcast is at I’m afraid the direct links are not in great repair; the archives listing is in reverse chronological order, so if you scroll down to December 7, 2007, you’ll find it there.

    Yours in provocation but not scholarship, JFW

  • rdlankes

    In a meeting with the Dallas Public Library folks they suggested “neighbors” for members or users. I like it for the public library context.

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