Engaging the disengaged

***cross-posted from the CACUL Re:Generations Blog ***

Engaging the disengaged

As I finish my second year as a librarian, I can say that I still have most of the optimism I had leaving library school. However, there will always be days when it’s really, really frustrating to have a handful of people show up to something I’m really excited about, and it’s challenging to work with students who don’t appreciate the range of services and resources offered to them, because they can get by without the library.

I think one of the central tenets of librarianship is accepting that we will always be much more excited about a new database feature than, well, anyone else. Our users love the library – the helpful staff, the study space, the technology, though they may not be aware of everything we have to offer. But, what about those that don’t even make their way through our doors? The dreaded “non-user”. How do we engage the disengaged?

Last week I was part of a wonderful conference for faculty spearheaded by the new Vice President Academic. The number of registered faculty was well above our expectations (more than double the anticipated turnout) and the level of engagement of faculty to help plan ‘new directions’ in the college was very positive and inspiring. One part of event had faculty fill out a quick ‘compass’ survey – inspired by CBC’s voting compass – to gauge the direction and willingness toward change among respondents. One category, the Stoic (or, the Disengaged) received, unsurprisingly, zero respondents. Of course, the truly disengaged would have deleted the email invitation without a second thought.

So, should we just plod forward without the disengaged?

For the library, we offer faculty sessions by academic division to highlight new features and services, and it’s always the regular library users who attend. At library sessions for students, it’s the eager, straight-A students who show up and take notes, while everyone else has skipped.

So, should we harass the students studying at the pub instead of the library and knock on faculty office doors until we get answers as to why they don’t like us?  (A side note, I keep bugging students to ‘like us’ on Facebook and I cringe every time). Gill (2010) discusses the challenges of surveying non-users at the Newport News Public Library System, conducted in order to create a specific marketing strategy toward the non-user. This type of survey would be easier to handle with a defined college community, but how to pull it off without seeming so desperate?

We’ve made changes to the library related questions on the college-wide student survey and have included questions probing further from the response ‘I don’t use the library’. We’re very curiously awaiting the results.


Gill, K. L. (2010). Surveying people who don’t use libraries. Marketing Library Services, 24(2): 1-7.

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