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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Customer Service and RA

Each semester I have my students read a section from Paco Underhill's best selling book Why We Buy. Libraries and librarians are not known for putting customer service first. I spend time with my librarians in training making sure they understand that we are there to help and serve our patrons. I do many exercises and stress this point throughout the semester. Surprisingly, my RA class seems to be the only place in the curriculum where customer service is addressed.

My two main customer service mantras for librarians are 1, to go the extra mile and 2, do behind the scenes work to make each patron's experience more enjoyable. I have many suggestions on how to do this. But most importantly, librarians need to remember that the books do not belong to them, we are simply the caretakers. The books in the library belong to the patrons, and should go out. We should not limit access. Who does that serve?

Also, libraries (in general) have too many rules that also limit access. Librarians (in general) do not trust the public and make rules to "protect" our collections. I say, let people have access and trust them until they prove themselves unworthy of this trust.

All of this is my opinion and it is fairly controversial in the library field. But I am not alone. In order to help my personal cause of turning out librarians who are eager and willing to help patrons, limit the overwhelming history of too many library rules, and simply make each patron's experience more pleasant, I have received a great deal of help from Paco Underhill's company Enviornsell.

My local library system, MLS, received a grant to have Environsell come in to 4 libraries and apply their expertise in the retail world to 3 public and 1 academic library. The results are here. The 4 libraries will be presenting their experiences at the ILA conference next week in Chicago and probably again here in Chicago at the annual ALA conference in June 2009.

Anyone who works in or uses their public library should take a look at this page and especially the pdf for the final report.

Libraries who are interested in my complete customer service program should contact me at the Berwyn Public Library so I can talk to you about coming to your library.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. As librarians we are there to help and guide our patrons in their library.

I love to see the books and other materials arrive and fill our shelves, but I find it more satisfying when the items are checked out and put into use. You couldn't have said it better! I enjoy going the extra mile, it's in my nature. ;)

I appreciate your words of wisdom.


Becky said...

I think you bring out another good point...empty shelves are good. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but when the materials fly off the shelves, it means we are meeting our patrons' needs. It also allows us to justify budget increases.