Last week, my library fielded thousands of calls, emails, chats, Facebook messages, and in-person questions about eclipse viewing glasses. Like many libraries across the country, my library received 1,000 free pairs from the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning via STAR_Net, an initiative to bring STEM exhibits and programming to libraries. And like many libraries, we had a demand that far exceeded our supply. News outlets kept encouraging people to go to the library for their glasses, and at the end of the week, we kept having to turn people away.
I hate having to say no to people at the library. And of course, I always offer an alternative when I can, in this case telling people about other places in the area that were giving out glasses and showing them instructions to make a pinhole camera to safely view the eclipse. But chances are those other places (some of them nearby libraries) also had demands that far exceeded supply. The most frustrating thing about all this, as Karen Jensen points out on Teen Librarian Toolbox, is that for a lot of these people, eclipse glasses were the first thing they came to the library for in a long time. Maybe the first thing they ever came to us for. And we had to turn them away.
It’s great that so many people came to the library. But if they came to us, and were disappointed, the chances of them coming back the next time they need something are lower. And we have so much more we could offer. Maybe we could help them solve their next problem, but they’ll never know, because they’ll remember the last time they asked us for something and heard no, and not bother to ask us again.
I don’t have any answers here. I’m just frustrated by how many people we had to turn away, how many people of all ages left disappointed. We applied for eclipse glasses from STAR_Net to do a good thing for our community, and yet so much of our community feels let down.
I hope they see how much we can and do offer them every day. And I hope they come back the next time they could use our help.