Cassandra Black met her husband online, inspiring her and colleague Mary Frances Frayne to put on an online dating workshop in February 2016 at the Belmont Library, CA. At the time, Black served as teen services librarian and Frayne as community services librarian. The program was geared mostly to seniors, who dominate Belmont’s classes.
D.J. Digianantonio, head of reference/teen services at Rodman Public Library, Alliance, OH, also offered online dating instruction in February. “We saw that there were a great [number] of patrons using our public computers to access online dating services,” he said. “Several of our less computer-savvy patrons needed help setting up their profiles as well as a brief tutorial on how to use the service.”
Mallory Arents, head of adult programming at Connecticut’s Darien Library, has given two such workshops, in June 2015 and January 2016. Like Black, she drew motivation from personal success—she credits Tinder for her partner of over two years—as well as questions from numerous patrons. “I’m honest and candid with my experience [in] online dating,” she said. “I’d like to think this lets people know I’m on their side, I’ve been there!”
Donya Drummond, jobs and careers librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, took a different approach: she outsourced workshops in September 2010 and February 2011 to Carol Renee, a middle school English teacher. Renee, too, had found her lifelong sweetheart online after years of dating.
Who, what, when, where, wow
All these workshops touched on choosing dating sites, writing profiles, communicating with potential dates, arranging for photos, and ensuring safety. The latter turned out to be a major concern: figuring out who’s a scammer, how much personal information to share, and what makes a “safe date.” Black and Frayne, as well as Arents, advised attendees to “do your own research” on prospects via Google and Facebook. Said Black, “We talked about how you can just leave a date…[and] they were shocked to find that people…didn’t just ‘suffer through!’ “
Arents tailored her workshops around sites and apps popular with her community. Attendees were mostly over 35 and of both sexes, with most classes averaging 20–30 people. “Some of the participants felt that online dating carries a whiff of the nefarious or strange or desperate,” said Frayne. “My colleagues have stories of patrons coming to the Welcome Desk…and instead of asking where the class is out loud, will write it down on a piece of paper.” The librarians all pushed to overturn stigmas. “I think for people in their 20s and 30s, especially, it’s the new normal of dating/finding a mate…,” Black stressed. “We [librarians] should feel comfortable presenting information about online dating, as it has become as common and acceptable as turning on your smartphone.”
Audiovisuals & resources
One library planned live web access for the workshop, plus a handout. Two others used PowerPoints with recommendations plus screen captures, and the fourth went low tech, using handouts, colored markers, and highlighters. Beyond personal experience, librarians relied on sources including the Pew Research Center, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the Online Dating Association, the FBI, and advice sections within dating sites.
Black and Frayne provided links to additional information. Arents urged “speaking in stories,” plus triple-checking grammar and spelling, while Digianantonio emphasized following a site’s code of conduct, and Renee advised, “Show your sense of humor!” All encouraged patrons to “have fun with it!”
Both patrons and librarians have found these classes rewarding. While challenges involved inadequate publicity and lack of staff time, all the libraries want to hold similar events again, fine-tuning details.
Here’s a happy ending from Arents: “A patron asked one of my colleagues at the Welcome Desk if she could speak with me. ‘Mallory, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I attended your online dating class a few months ago. I went home, created a Match.com profile, and well…this is Jack.’ Nothing could have made me happier.”