A commitment to patron training

Whether formal or informal, planned or unplanned, most libraries offer some variety of patron training. Call it what you may, when a librarian bends over a public computer and offers help to a puzzled patron, that’s training, too.

When I sat down with Claire Stafford in the staff break room at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City, CA, she shared their tribulations with patron training, which had nothing to do with need, resources, or demand—all of these factors were in place—it had something to do with commitment… from the public.

From Claire’s standpoint, when you offer something for free, there’s a lack of commitment, and the form that lack took at the Madelyn Helling library was no-shows.

“We saw a need, and tried to offer public training, but too many people just didn’t show up,” Claire shared.

Now, if you were to head on over to the Caldwell Public Library in Caldwell, ID, you’d find a different story:

“We teach classes to the community free of charge--now let me take that back--we do charge them $5 to sign up for one class or all ten classes or twelve classes.” Annie Adamson, from Caldwell Public Library shared.

“If they come to the classes they get their money back. We did start it as a free--non-gratis--service, but we were finding that if people didn’t make a commitment, that they were not coming in. And we had waiting lists that were just tremendous! And we couldn’t serve these folks that were waiting, and the folks that did sign up forgot, or had something come up, and failed to contact us and let us know. “

And the icing on the cake at Caldwell?

“On the whole, I have had people come to my classes and say, 'Keep the $5,' and write me out a check for $25 and say, 'Here’s a donation to the library.’”



this is such an excellent idea. i love it - something that you pay for is actually free.

We've experienced Claire Stafford's problem with no-shows at our free computer classes also, while so many others are waiting for a chance to get in the classes.

Your solution wounds great and I will be asking my supervisor to give a copy of your letter to our board of trustees in an attempt to have permission to do something similar here.

Terrific! Good luck in getting this approved by your board. If you need more information from Annie to legitimize and back up your cause, please let me know. I'd be happy to put you in touch with her.

I think this is such a tremendous idea. It's an interesting comment on our culture that paying for something adds more value, and in this case, provides the motivation to show up.

I wonder if there are other examples where a refundable fee or a similar transaction may impact positively on commitment?