Different Strokes for Different Folks

I did both my undergraduate and graduate work in Michigan (not to mention that I graduated high school there, as well).  I’ve never lived in a state that didn’t touch a portion of a great lake, even though I’m on state #4.  For all intents and purposes, I am an upper-Midwestern girl.  In the past 2 years, living and working in what I think most people would consider the south if they’d ever been here, I’ve noticed that libraries and library services are as different as they are alike.

– Dress. Code.

This is the biggest difference.  Even as a paraprofessional in my Michigan library, I was expected to dress as a professional at all times.  Patrons needed to see that we were professionals in order to take us seriously.  No jeans, to t-shirts (except for summer reading tees on designated days), no capri pants, no sandals, no Birkenstocks.  So I tried to emulate my library-director mother and her wardrobe as best as I could on a grad student’s budget.  Now, I wish I had MORE pairs of jeans.  The philosophy down here is that patrons want to see themselves reflected in us, and since our patrons are in relaxed dress, it’s OK for us to be, too.  We are trying to make people feel comfortable using our services, not scare them off.

– Library Governance

Mind you, I learned about library funding in Michigan, so it has been difficult for me to get a good grasp on how it works in Indiana.  I think (don’t quote me) that the counties mostly control things around here.  Every time I assume I’ve gotten a handle on this, though, another exception comes up, so maybe I just need to talk to someone at the State Library…

-Patron Expectations

For some reason, I think people expect libraries to charge them for use of every single service.  I’m not sure this is unique to this area, but everyone is surprised when I tell them our cards are free – well, pre-paid, anyway.  I want to know why they think a library card costs money.  What shared cultural experience did I miss out on?


I am a Northerner, and it might as well be stamped on my forehead the moment I open my mouth.  Even after two years, there are words and phrases I’ve never encountered, or I say something (like, “potluck”) that they find HILARIOUS.


Five hours have made a world of difference.  Any of my southern librarian friends have any other comparisons they could make (*cough*Abby*cough*… since you did work in Illinois…)?  Or anyone who has visited both a southern and northern library?  I’m not even going to try to compare West/East/Southwest libraries, since I have no clue, but if you do, tell me how different your experiences have been!  Or non-American libraries, even.


2 Responses to “Different Strokes for Different Folks”

  1. So interesting because I was JUST talking to some of my staff about this today! I’ll say this with the caveat that the library I was at in Illinois was in a Very Wealthy suburb, so that might account for some of the differences, rather than strictly geographic.

    Religion! I have nothing against anyone’s religious practices, but I will say that patrons I get to know down here have no qualms about inviting me to religious functions. That is something that NEVER would have happened at my library in Illinois. (I appreciate the kindness and intent behind these invitations!! I think it also speaks to patrons seeing themselves reflected in library staff. We get to know them on a more personal basis.)

    I find that I deal much more with parents and family members, rather than nannies and babysitters. (Again, the socioeconomic differences probably come into play here.)

    And the pace is much different. In Illinois, I think our patrons expected a lot more of us in terms of programs and general offerings. Down here, our patrons are very grateful for anything that we do for kids and for families. They don’t seem to feel as entitled to services. Again, working in a wealthy community, the library had a lot more competition. We had to have new stuff in right away or people would just buy it. We always had to have the latest thing or people wouldn’t come to programs, etc.

  2. I’ve lived all over (Michigan included!) and am trying to think up library differences. Maybe you truly experience it on the other side of the counter?

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