Cartoon Reference

26 10 2009

Libraries provide reference services through a variety of communication methods. There’s your standard face to face and phone. Electronically, email and chat have become more common with a variety of chat services with options for co-browsing and other fancy things. Some libraries are tweeting; others are on Second Life.

But I just saw Anthony Bourdain’s Alternate Universe (his new animated web series) and found myself wishing I could provide reference service online as a cartoon version of myself. The amount of time and energy it would take to animate myself (and my lack of artistic ability) make it highly unlikely this could happen.

At the root of this (aside from just how cool it could be) is the desire to have an online presence that is accessible to patrons. Librarians seem impersonal and “scary” to those who don’t know us. There’s a library anxiety and worry of judgement. Cartoons, pictures, details about interests and all of that kind of jazz personalize people. When I met Lisa Lillien (Hungry Girl) at a book signing, she seemed familiar and accessible because her cartoon was identical to her.

Common interests provide an entry point for patrons to feel more comfortable. It’s basic common sense that we all know and feel. As a resident advisor in college, we had to write a little intro about ourselves in the hall newsletter. I didn’t think anyone would read it, let alone remember details from it, so I wrote that I love cheesy ’80s music. On move in day, students came up to me all day long to let me know that they too shared my love for cheesy ’80s music. And that helped them to feel comfortable coming to me with their questions all year long.

That small detail made the difference to the students in my hall and can make the difference with patrons. Patrons have questions, some they don’t even realize they have or that they don’t think librarians can answer or that they think are too dumb to ask anyone. Having a personal connection can increase their comfort level and keep them asking rather than getting frustrated. Cartoon versions of ourselves might not be an option but being a little more animated and playful in our service delivery methods certainly are.

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5 responses

4 11 2009
fesc

I think anything you can to do personalize yourself is a good thing. However, people like Lisa Lillien, and others I have met Jen Lancaster and Alton Brown come to mind, put SO much of themselves on the page or on video that we feel like we know them and thus have a comfort level with them. have you read that article about how the friends on the show Friends make our brain react in the same way that our real life friends do? (I am sure you can find it.) I think it’s the same thing here.

Also, it’s the darned counter that stands between us the patron and you the all knowing (or at least all finding) librarians. Have you noticed sales people no longer stand behind them? It creates a physical barrier between you and me, which some can find intimidating. So while you can’t be a cartoon, you can be welcoming and perhaps remove some of the physical barriers that prevent people from asking questions.

4 11 2009
Stacy

That’s a good point about physical barriers. Some libraries have gone deskless for that very reason. But it becomes an issue of how will people know where (and how) to find us. I guess we could stand somewhere with tablets but that might feel uncomfortable also. There’s that fine line between friendly and creepy.

4 11 2009
fesc

Silly uniforms, Of course!

4 11 2009
Stacy

Those would put us squarely in the creepy column.

7 11 2009
paras

Hmm, what would a librarian uniform be? All I can picture is one of those jump suits from TNG and if that’s the case I am all for it!

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