Despite the arguments in its favor, I do not like calling the people who use my library customers. Something about it just doesn’t seem right. I have not been able to put my finger on what until now.
Try completing this analogy: Library is to student as [blank] is to customer. Do you like what goes in the blank?
I modified that analogy from one in a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Rob Jenkins, an associate professor at a community college. Jenkins has found that the language of customer service on college campuses has extended into the classroom, and he makes a compelling argument that it is not appropriate.
He does not specifically mention libraries, and I think they are a gray area between two cases he does mention: the classroom and the registrar’s office. While librarians do not have the same kind of relationship with students that professors do, I do not think it is strictly a customer service relationship.
Think about your library’s mission, and then think about whether customer service fits that mission. Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t. Do you always give your students what they want? Or do you sometimes give them what, in your professional judgment, is best for their education?