Levels of Patron Engagement: a conceptual pyramid

December 6, 2010, 4:05 pm

 I’ve had this sketch on my whiteboard for most of the fall term. 


What I am really interested in is the evolution of a patron’s relationship to their library over the course of time.


In theory – as they accumulate different blocks of experience using our services their sophistication and commitment should increase. So perhaps during their first visit they use it as a study space, then the next time they use a computer,  and then next they browse the popular fiction section.


I put this concept into a pyramid to create a better visual. Just ignore the degree of spacing, this is meant more to illustrate progression rather then to accurately chart user behavior:



Ok, so you start with the easiest and most primitive level of service: study space.  This could be a cubical or something more designer. This is the greatest entry point because it is accommodating and requires minimal effort on our behalf.


The next step is technology: computers, printers, scanners, wi-fi, power plugs, and so on. This is another common entry point that just about everyone can use. This layer takes a little more effort on our behalf (budget too) but is largely used by the masses of patrons.


Next up, collections: digital, print, special, reserves, etc. Here their effort increases a bit. They actually have to search and find something. This requires more involvement and indirectly impacts us.


And then we move to assistance. Here is where things start to shift. The other levels have been seemingly passive, and self-supportive— but assistance at circ or reference desk, directly involves us. It elevates the patron commitment—now they have to interact with staff – they have to actively engage with the library.


Now we reach advocacy. We’re moving beyond the product-oriented levels and enter a different layer in which there is an emotional connection to the library. At this point they are endorsing the items in the pyramid. We assume that they have had a positive or at least valuable experience and are now bringing in their peers.


The final step is partnership. They have transcended the library as a suite of services and have elevated to buying in… be it financially or a commitment of time and effort. This could be a patron who develops a program, leads a project, or donates a gift. They invest into the concept of the library and strive to enrich it.


So there you go. I’m about to erase my whiteboard and I wanted to scribble this into blog-form before it vanishes from my mind completely.


The main point—while patrons might not always follow this path, I think it is important to consider library usage as a series of ongoing encounters that advance one’s commitment. Each step up the pyramid strengthens their affiliation with the library brand.


In a nutshell—I’ve spent time talking with students and a few faculty who have reached the pinnacle of the pyramid and then attempted to deconstruct their path. The common thread between them all is ascending along this general trajectory: they use the product, they like the product, they tell others about the product, and finally they want to get involved and support the product.


That’s where my mind is at these days. I have a few more “white board” blog posts in the works—look for another tomorrow.

Oh and ALA Editions is finally in Kindle format. Download a free sample of my book's first two chapters if you like this sort of thing. I promise the book is more articulate then these ramblings.

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