As I read Seth Godin’s latest title, Meatball Sundae, on my flight yesterday from Columbus to SF I couldn’t help but be struck at how often the word “customer” appeared throughout the book. Sure it makes sense, that book is after all about “new marketing” techniques and rules to connect with your customer. But its constant use got me thinking about how libraries ‘see’ the customer.
When I first started working in public libraries, I learned to call library users “patrons” (BTW this was a hard habit for me to break – for proof, just look back at some of my early blog posts) but as the tide has shifted, I now mostly call them “customers.” In thinking about the shift that is occurring within our society currently where we are moving away from an “us and them” marketing culture to an “us and us” one, to me the use of the word “customer” just doesn’t seem right either. See if you can follow my logic …
In an “us and them” culture…
… the word “patron” implies that “they” ( the patron) exist to support “us” (the library) Think patron of the arts, patron saint of lost souls, etc.
… the word “customer” implies that “we” (the library) exist to support “them” (the customer). Much better, I think.
But in a culture that is moving more and more rapidly to relationships that are shared, “Us and Us”, this division is getting more and more blurry and to me neither the word customer nor patron seems to fit properly anymore.
“Community” is the best word that I can think of because it embraces the idea that we are in this together. But there isn’t really a good singular form to the word community – at least I can’t think of one. Citizen, comrade and colleague come close, but these all seem to be weighted with implied baggage from the “us and them” culture. Hmm … perhaps we need a brand new word? Does anyone have any thoughts?
PS: I know, I know ... some of you are thinking right now "Blowers you think about things too much". But hey, that's what's happens when I have time on a 5 hour flight to kill. I read and then think. :)