The 100 Years War – An Evolution of the Library Customer

By: Clark Swanson

Clients frequently ask, “What is the future of libraries?” Much to their frustration, I respond, “I haven’t a clue.” Their question, I think, misses the point. The real question relates to their customers. That is, how will your customers evolve and change in the years ahead?  That’s a question we can answer. The following represents an effort to do that in the broadest of terms, defining the future customer.

Friday afternoon provides the OrangeBoy team a welcome break from the demands of our week. Client e-mails, texts, and calls slow. Those who spent the week traveling return. Frequently, the most interesting conversations take place during this time. Jack and Erin occasionally break out in song on Friday afternoons, sometimes accompanied by dance.

These conversations provide a window to view a generation’s consumption behavior. In this sense, they serve as our Lucy. One can reasonably expect they will shape the forces of consumerism for the next 100 years through their children and grandchildren. A glimpse of their passions and proclivities tell us much about how we might shape our service offerings in the long years ahead. I want to introduce you two of our team members who serve as a generational proxy.

Erin, age 23, hails from Chicagoland. On her desk sits two cell phones, a Nokia Windows Phone and a Samsung Android. She moves seamlessly from one to the other, even while responding to e-mail and Lync messages on her laptop. Erin has accumulated thousands of followers on Instagram. At home, she and her significant other each have their own X-Box.

Shelby, age 22, came to us from Marietta College with degrees in Physics and Math. She recently purchased her first car, an electric blue Ford Fiesta. Shelby carries only one phone, an Android. She loves music and listens to Spotify most of the day. When not at OrangeBoy, you may find her involved in a local theatre production.

My business partner Sandy once called Erin “self-supervising.”  Shelby loves nothing more than solving a problem. She makes so little noise that one hardly knows when she arrives or leaves. We love them both, and Sandy and I take much enjoyment watching them establish their lives.

They move about this task in ways we find foreign but quite interesting. The most obvious involves something we talk about with our clients frequently—mobility.

Many mistake mobility for the use of a mobile device. At times, I carry as many as five mobile devices — three pads, a Windows Phone, and a jet pack. Yet as Erin and Shelby both know, I lack mobility. Mobility relates to ubiquitousness. Erin and Shelby live in a world where technology exists as part of the scenery, and they take no special notice of it. I make technology a conscious choice.

You see this as Erin shuffles effortlessly between phones, or as Spotify follows Shelby where ever she ventures. In either case, the devices they use understand what they want at any particular time. It just appears. They think nothing of it.

Their immersive technologies leave Erin and Shelby with an altered syntax. A different operating system drives their world. Shelby characterized it this way: “I applied for and received student loans online without ever talking with a person, but to get a library card, I have to show up at a specific location, at a specific time, with specific forms of identification. It makes no sense.”

The operative phrase here, “It makes no sense.”  Erin’s even more earnest:  “I simply don’t understand libraries.”

Their point, I think, relates to how their generation moves through daily life. Contact with people, whether bankers or librarians, have been engineered out of the systems they use. Conditioned to this, they view such interactions with a befuddled look, as to say, “Why would I do that?”

I have seen that look many times, and it still garners a double take. Yet as Sandy once asked, “Who has to change?”  Her question went unanswered, but we both knew the answer.

Sandy’s question relates to a third element of their lives. They expect service whenever and wherever. Shelby returned from apartment hunting one Monday miffed that leasing agents required Saturday appointments. Even within the realm of the physical, Erin and Shelby expect something beyond convenience. They expect the world to mold to their schedules.

Their desire for “right now” comes with an implied understanding they readily accept. This only comes in yielding their privacy. Or, as Erin put it, “I don’t expect privacy.” Erin and Shelby fully understand the personal data they consciously or unconsciously contribute may flow to unexpected places. They do so, however, with the belief that this “contribution” yields greater choice.

Choice strikes at the heart of their lives. They expect it. Perhaps more than any other generation, this one has lived with the consequence of choice longer than any other. It started early in the lives with standardized testing, culminating in the SAT. They chose a college. They signed student loan papers. Why now should they surrender this? They won’t. Like Frank Sinatra, they intend to do it their way. Shelby calls this do-it-yourself couture. Translated, you make your own life.

 

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