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An Argument Against Library Greeters

A while ago Laura blogged about her idea of putting WalMart-like greeters in the library. When I read it I remember thinking that this might work for some people. I imagined someone (other than myself) feeling all warm and fuzzy that somebody had bothered to smile and say “hi.”

Then I imagined me… I’d be trying to figure out if there was a back entrance or an open window I could use to get in without having to walk past a greeter. Then I’d have all my routes mapped out in the library in such a way that I’d be able to avoid all eye-contact with that poor greeter. On the up side (from a library statistics point of view), once I was in the building I’d be loathe to leave because I’d have to pass through the dreaded front entrance if I wanted to check out any materials. I imagined myself timing my departure to be on the far edge of a group of other people, buffers between me and certain greeting. This could be a devious strategy for increasing the length of time patrons spend in the library.

But now I’ve just heard another argument against implementing this idea at our library. My student worker was just in a discussion with some of his friends about WalMart greeters and how it’s obvious that they’re only there to keep people from running out of the doors without paying for their merchandise. “Why else would they pay somebody to stand there all day? They obviously don’t trust anyone,” was the comment one student made a couple of times. This was seconded by the group in general.

So it’s not the strongest evidence, but since I have a pathological aversion to greeting people who are paid to smile and say “hi,” I’ll take whatever falls in my lap. “No,” I affirm to myself as I twist this conversation to fit my ends, “I don’t want to seem distrustful. I don’t want my students to think that I only see them as book thieves. And heaven help me, I really, really don’t want to have to sneak in and out of my own library.”

Published inLibraries and Librarians


  1. Mark Mark

    You know, any society that truly respected and valued their elders would never let them work at WalMart! Especially as “greeters.”

    I don’t like them folks, either. Well, the folks are OK, it’s the position I don’t like. Several places seem to have them now. At least I avoid the WM ones since I go there about once a year; at most.

  2. Kathryn Greenhill Kathryn Greenhill

    I’d be right next to you sneaking past the greeters. It would put me in a social situation I’d hate. our library we already have security doors that beep if material is taken through them without being checked I’m not too fussed about the “you are book thieves” message…we’re already shouting that through a loud hailer.

    What I do like, however, is the floor walkers in my local Officeworks. They wear luminous waistcoats so you can spot them, and are always busy. I’m naturally shy, but would actually be happy to wear one and walk about, as I think it would be a very good way of serving our users where their need is.

  3. Iris Iris

    You’re right, Kathryn. Floor walkers are entirely different. They’re more like the concept of “roving” reference. Now, I’m opposed to transforming our reference service into a roving reference service (for reasons that I’ve blogged about before), but I wouldn’t mind having an auxiliary service… if only I had the time.

  4. Laura Cohen Laura Cohen

    As anticipated, my blog entry about Wal-Mart greeters has been controversial. It’s been fun to follow the comments about it. I just hope that people will read the entry carefully and note that I didn’t recommend that students just stand there and greet. I recommended a number of things that these students can do – including roving – in order to make this idea potentially effective. It may never come to fruition, anywhere, but it’s been fun exploring the thought.

  5. Iris Iris

    Hi Laura. I just wrote a comment that blogger ate. I hope blogger gets indigestion.

    But the gist of it was that I have absolutely no problem with having student workers wandering the stacks, but they shouldn’t actually speak to people unless that person is giving them the “I’m hopelessly lost” look, or the person approaches them first. I hate browsing contentedly away only to have 3 or 4 people come up and interrupt me with questions about how well I’m finding what I wanted.

    In fact, that’s my main problem with the greeters. If they didn’t speak, I’d be fine. …But I’m weird that way…. Not everyone has this innate instinct to duck around corners to avoid being spoken to while they’re concentrating on research.

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