Patrons? Customers? Users? Clients?

It’s only words and words are all [we] have
The Beegees

While school libraries, however otherwise beleaguered they may be (and definitely are!) can rest with relative ease on the habit of calling those who make use of them “students,” and sometimes “teachers” or other identifications that refer to the functional identity held beyond the library, public library staff have fiddled for over a century to find the most suitable term by which to call both those who use the library and, with the quick addition of “non-” or “potential,” those who don’t. My email brings daily suggestions that I enter online discussions in various professional and off-hours forums to discuss such topics as “losing patronage,” and “giving customers what they want.” The standard nomenclature applied to these members of the public vary among the four I question in the title here. It’s past time for us to define those we serve, and for whom we work in public libraries, according to who they are rather than according to what we need them to be for the library’s sense of commitment to them.

We work in a field where words are prioritized as our chief form of communication. We need to think about which ones we use, what they mean when heard, and whether they are as accurate as any we can choose. We do, in all but the worst cases, have patrons. Patrons sponsor, finance, contribute through backing or other benefit, and donate to the institution who “has” them. Customers, on the other hand, buys goods or services from a business, so when someone buys something like city-required garbage bags available through us, perhaps they are customers, and perhaps even when, at just a bit of stretch, when they pay for interlibrary loan requests. Users, as a functional identity, must match their activities to whatever it is that we are counting. And clients share particular attributes of customers in terms of presuming a monetized model, while at the same time being forced into activities that rely specifically on accessing professional services.

Each of these names focuses on us, the public library, and skips over why we do what we do from the standpoint of community service and resource. Fire departments indeed quell–or work to quell–fires and other emergency situations on a needs basis, and we don’t identify those who turn, or fail to turn, to the fire department when things that shouldn’t start to smell smoky patrons, customers, clients, or even users. They are, in any of the sets of circumstances in which they are being and doing fire fighter stuff (responding to emergencies, providing professional safety checks, organizing proactive safety awareness programs), working with and for members of the community.

Which is the same population with whom we be and do library stuff. Can we turn the floodlights off us and shine them where they need to be focused? I want my public library to focus on community members and figure out from there what that should and can entail.

Online enrollment process walk through webinar Thursday

The California Health Benefit Exchange, the administrative office providing Affordable Care Act health insurance enrollment through Covered California, announced earlier today a free webinar for those who want a preview of the online enrollment process. Public library staff throughout the state who expect to have any role in supplying community members with technology through which online enrollment can be made should register to attend the 90-minute webinar, scheduled for 10 am, on Thursday, September 26 (day after tomorrow).

Here’s the announcement emailed to those on the Covered California email list:

On-Line Application Demonstration

September 26, 2013 at 10:00am pdt

 A demonstration of the on-line application that will be implemented on October 1, 2013.

 More information on how to call-in and view the webinar demonstration will be forthcoming.

 Webinar Link:

 After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

As with other California Health Benefit Exchange webinars, this one will be recorded and archived for future viewing. You can find previous ones under the Stakeholders tab on the Exchange homepage. Thursday’s webinar will demonstrate the tested Covered California interface to be opened to the public on Tuesday, October 1.

If your library has planned to provide quick access to the Covered California site from the library’s page, you can also take the time now to install the official buttons used to link back to that site from outside it.

If you know you work with staff who have little information about the marketplace as yet, be sure they see the Covered California Fact Sheet. Also be sure to become familiar with the information supplied in the Fact Sheet of Changes Coming to Health Care in 2014, which goes beyond enrollment and health insurance to enumerate new consumer rights and mandated business practices.



Prepare to document your library’s value

The initial health insurance open enrollment period, a key component of the Affordable Care Act, provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the meaningful role public libraries serve in their communities. By documenting the work your public library undertakes on behalf of assisting its community in connecting to the information and access points they need related to the Affordable Care Act, you can build the profile of public libraries in general as well as become more visible as a local community resource.

To collect quantitative data that displays this value, your library should take some steps before the enrollment period begins on October 1:

  • During the week before enrollment opens, document the number of uses made of public access computers; you can use this figure later to contrast with use during the weeks of the enrollment period, through March 31.
  • If you have a public computer lab or classroom, be sure to reserve it for about two-hour periods of time for weekly online enrollment opportunities; these hours are also quantitative and you can record the numbers of community members who visit the lab or classroom to enroll on a weekly basis.
  • If your library has a publicly accessible TTY connection, be sure staff understand its use and communicate the parameters under which your library will make it available to community members who need its support to reach telephone assistance from Covered California. The numbers who do can also be documented.
  • If your library itself doesn’t subscribe to Language Line, the professional service through which community members who need interpretive assistance in order to enroll in the insurance marketplace, find out which city or county office does. Be sure to communicate with that agency about the library’s likely need to understand its use during the enrollment period and be sure that appropriate library staff receive the little training its use requires. Such occasions become yet another quantitative detail to track during the enrollment period.

Making these counts and arrangements now will put you in a good position to show the amount of assistance (value) you deliver during the initial open enrollment period. Like almost every challenge, this period of open enrollment provides a great opportunity–in this case, to collect hard data to use in future advocacy.

Free Training for Library Staff from the Federal Government

California library staff can learn a lot of helpful information about both the Affordable Care Act and library staff roles in guiding our communities through various legislated processes ACA entails through the free webinars that are being presented this month and next by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Each webinar is scheduled to be shared live on multiple dates and there are three webinar topics in the full series. In addition, staff can view the slides for any of the three online at any time.

Watching the first real time presentation of Health Insurance Marketplace 101 yesterday, I learned some important things, both from the formal discussion and in the question and answer session. Among these is a fact that may be of great importance in some of our library communities and is relatively undiscussed in general media:  a record of incarceration does not preclude anyone from participating in the health insurance marketplace; in fact, no incarceration history database will be checked during the application verification process. On the other hand, the enrollment process for consumers will check input data against such databases as the IRS and Social Security Administration. Such questions asked by audience members during the session will, we were told, be added to the growing list of FAQ’s maintained on the CMS training page.

The public is being directed to libraries, among other agencies such as hospitals and insurance agents, to receive assistance in navigating the marketplace and its website.  This is not new information, but realizing that this word is being widely spread can give pause to library staff members who are uncertain about their current abilities to help anyone else navigate a new system they themselves don’t fully understand.

And that is exactly why library staff need to hear now that a wide array of training options and supports are already available to them and that we at Infopeople have even more in production—training aimed specifically at California library staff to whom the public will be (and perhaps already is) turning for a better understanding of how the Affordable Care Act, and registration in its legislated health insurance marketplace, affects them.  Help Infopeople get out the word that support is on hand so that library staff statewide can ready themselves for this new legislative initiative.

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Keeping Up with Affordable Care Act News

With the enrollment period for the initial public activity under the Affordable Care Act less than two months away, librarians need to be sure we are staying alert to related news from both federal and state governments. One easy first step is to make sure you are subscribing to notifications from An email subscription won’t bring an avalanche of puff pieces; instead it can give us the opportunity to see what portals have been developed for Americans to use to enter the Health Insurance Marketplace, enrollment in which opens October 1.

If you’re in California, there’s already a quick link from the Marketplace landing page to Covered California, the access point for all Californians to use when entering the Marketplace. The Covered California site already is built out to a degree that we should be getting familiar with it right now, not next month or (*shudder*) when our community members start asking for details.  Start with the Fact Sheet and consider linking to it from your library’s home page as a demonstration of not only the library’s preparedness but also as a reminder to site visitors that it’s already time to start pulling together the information they will need to enroll.

Here at Infopeople, we have several projects in the works, that are going to roll out starting this month, to help with library planning around understanding how the Affordable Care Act relies on our public library staffs to make a difference in the quality of life everyone in our communities experiences. So, at the same time that you subscribe to, you might want to start following Infopeople on Twitter (@infotweets), like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Infopeople Project’s Training Calendar. We are going to be producing a lot of information quickly–all of it aimed at helping you help the folks who rely on you for good healthcare and insurance information and public computer access, two all important aspects of our defined work come October 1.