Several weeks ago, a couple staff members approached me with the idea of re-organizing the magazines. We were in the middle of re-carpeting, and had to take a bunch of stuff off the floor, including magazines. Why not take advantage of the opportunity and display the magazines by subject, upon their return to the floor? You know--when you go to Walgreens or Barnes & Noble, you don't look for the "N" magazines when you want the National Enquirer. You look for the magazines that have pictures of Britney Spears shaving her head, or of Angelina Jolie (the new Mia Farrow) with another adopted baby.
There seemed to be decent buy-in from staff most affected by the change--Circ and Info Services--so we agreed to try it and give it a three-month trial. Several of us had input on the categories and titles that went in each category. There was some negotiating, but overall, we felt like we had a pretty user-friendly system. The magazines went back out about three weeks ago, with very good finding aids and signage, so we just sat back waiting to be lauded for our genius and user-friendly orientation.
Oh. Mah. Gahd. Response was quick and virulent. You think you've seen complainers in the library? In my 15 years on the Ref Desk, I've never seen patrons react with so much passion. Not when we stopped allowing holds on DVDs at my previous library. Not even, I've heard, as a result of the Great Nonfiction Multimedia Interfiling Disaster of 2003. At first we thought that it was the usual response to change and that after a week or so, our regular users would get used to it. It seemed to us to be a great way to offer exposure to the lower-circ titles--casual browsers would be able to find a category of interest and see everything we had on the topic. We saw evidence of this by the increased numbers of different titles scattered around on the tables. This anecdotal evidence of success was nothing in the face of negative daily numerous comments, written and verbal. None of the commentators offered a "Yay! Good job!" Okay, we said, let's give it a month, rather than three months, then reevaluate.
Desk staff upstairs and down were doing a great job of trying to sell the change. I started more roaming in the magazine stacks. I helped people find what they were looking for, but mostly, I listened to people vent. A couple days ago, it became apparent that we needed to respond before one month, before we started to see the torches and pitchforks climb the stairs. So, starting next week, we'll give the people what they want and restore the magazines to ABC order. There are a few possible reasons for this glorious failure: the magazine shelving is not optimal for this type of display. It's hard to see the titles; for those who wanted a specific title, it made finding a multi-step process (find the alpha title list, see which category it was in, find the category on the shelf, then find the title in the category); many users knew where to find magazines by location ("last time I was here, the magazine was right here, in the middle of the shelf"); and we all know that change of any sort is difficult for many people.
It's made me very thoughtful about change in the library. We thought we were being responsive. Did we hear from patrons that they wanted a change in the magazines? No. We were responding to what we've been reading in the journals and blogs about how libraries should be less library-like. We were responding to how we, as consumers, look for magazines outside the library. Now I'm wondering--when should a library try something new if patrons have not expressed a desire for change? I don't regret our experiment at all. I'm so pleased to work with a staff that is willing to float and try new things, and who are secure enough as professionals to step back and say, "maybe we made a mistake." I think it's also been terrific to hear SO MUCH from patrons. Some days you wonder if anyone pays much attention or cares. It's nice to know that they do. I'm hoping that our responsiveness (to our responsiveness?) is appreciated, even a tiny bit. We are listening.