Power patrons?

I’ve had those two words sitting on my “should blog about this” notebook for months–and this is as good a time as any.

What’s a power patron? Somebody who goes to their public library at least once a week. And, if you believe a number of sources (most of which trace back to a single library journal), libraries should pay extra attention to power patrons.

I’m not particularly comfortable with the whole “power patron” concept (although I suppose it’s better than “prime customer”) as it applies to public libraries. I’m even more uncomfortable with the notion that people who are in their public libraries lots and lots and lots deserve special treatment or should be listened to more carefully than the rest of us shlubs.

I’m not a power patron. I typically visit the library once every three weeks, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later. I return my three books, drop off any donations to the Friends’ bookstore, choose three new books, and leave.

I am, in other words, a regular patron–borrowing typically 50 or so books a year, appreciating the library, only too ready to vote for a millage increase and support shifting more of the city’s budget to the library. When I finally give up on trying to make a difference nationally, I’ll get directly involved with the Friends (they’re already recruiting…) and maybe go to library programs.

But I certainly don’t go to the library every week. So I’m just an ordinary patron.

Actually, if patrons who go once a week are power patrons who deserve extra attention, what about the small group (here–larger elsewhere) who go every single day¬†and spend much of the day in the library, sometimes even awake?

Aren’t those superpatrons? Shouldn’t they have even more influence on a library’s operation?

3 Responses to “Power patrons?”

  1. Mary Baum Says:

    This sounds like a port of the best-customer concept from the for-profit world. But applying that model to a free service could more easily drain resources than add revenue (unless a given library is that hard up to sell library cards.)
    Especially if we’re alluding to daily patrons often sleeping the day away in the library.
    I don’t mean to imply they don’t have that right.
    But I do agree that letting them dictate the direction and purpose of the institution is taking things a little far.
    What I’d rather see is those terms – power patron, super patron – referring to tiers of readers (okay, information seekers), if not donors.
    And I suspect it’s the tiers of readers who should carry the most weight in shaping the future of an institution that serves as a community’s information hub.

  2. laura Says:

    Huh. I’ve never heard the term. I used to go to the library every day (before I became a librarian, that is), but I didn’t expect or want any special or extra treatment. I just liked the place.

  3. Walt Crawford Says:

    Laura: The more I looked at it, the more it seems that most uses of “power patron” are either in or can be linked to Library Journal, which has a habit of Singling Out for Special Treatment in various areas (M&S, Star Libraries, whatever).

    Mary: I’m not entirely sure that very frequent readers should carry the most weight either. A good public library servers a variety of community needs; while for me, “source of reading material” is primary, I think the community as a whole needs a balance. I don’t think any one group should carry the most weight.


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