Today I went to pick up my membership card at the British Library of Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics (another library card to add to my collection – yay!). I had to apply for a card online in order to enter the library, and in particular to gain entry to the Women’s Library Reading Room and collections, which are the focus of my research project for this course. In particular, I am going to be examining and documenting the history, resources and administrative structure of Women’s Library collection. The Women’s Library has had a long history, over the past 100 years, of being moved from institution to institution for various reasons. In 2014, the Library reopened at the London School of Economics (LSE); previously it was under the care of the London Metropolitan University.
It was a very interesting experience, both as a student and as an aspiring librarian, to experience being a user of the LSE library. I was reminded of a recent post in Open Shelf, the digital publication of the Ontario Library Association (OLA), which in turn draws upon the idea of “Work Like a Patron Day”. I probably was able to navigate being a new reader at the library, and find what I needed within the library and in the stacks, more quickly and easily than the average person, only because I am a library student. But at the same time, there were inevitably questions I had and things I did not know about this library and how it operates, and it was a good exercise going through the process of orienting myself to this library system. The library website was quite comprehensive for when I had questions, but I also know that it can be frustrating to be at a library in person and to go to talk to someone at the help desk, only to be directed towards a website or email. It brought to mind that all-important fact, which is that the average person does not think like a librarian. We have to be very careful about how we organize our collections, and how we talk to patrons when they come to us for help, or else we risk having quite a detrimental effect on how approachable and useful they consider their libraries to be. My experience at LSE was a positive one, and the staff were very helpful. But my experience also was a good lesson for me in how there often will be gaps in what library staff assume a patron knows about the services or resources, and what the patron does in fact know, and putting ourselves in our patrons shoes seems like an effective way to work on closing this gap.