Good RA librarians go out of their way to be helpful, and respectful. The biggest hurdle is that librarians are not known for their customer service. 10 years in, I still have patrons walking up to our desk and telling us how surprised they are that we can talk at the desk and are even encouraging conversation rather than shushing them.
So point number one: its 2010, don't shush people in the library. Send the people who want quiet to a quiet area; everywhere else is public space.
My goal in spreading the RA gospel to my co-workers, students, and other library professionals who I travel around to train, is to create an army of little Beckys...librarians who are friendly, go out of their way to help each and every patron, and never shush people who want to talk to us.
Think it can't happen at your library? Wrong. Anyone can influence an entire library. Take the BPL for example. When Tammy Clausen and I came in to start RA in 2000, customer service was not the library's strongest point. Tammy and I set out to lead by example. We went above and beyond for each and every patron. Yes, we stepped on a few toes of our co-workers, but in the end, we were able to change the entire customer service culture at the BPL. Customer service is now a top priority; new hires have helped to influence this, and the biggest triumph of all, Tammy is now our Director!
"How do I begin at my library?" you may ask. Tonight I will begin answering this question with my class of library students, and although I cannot recreate the 1 hour lecture they will get here, I can leave you at our starting point. On page 7 of the February 2008 Illinois Library Association Reporter, they had the following Top Ten List to get any library started on improving their customer service:
The only library mantra this list is missing is one I have made up. Remember, the books on your shelves are not "yours," they are the patrons' books. Too many librarians get proprietary about loaning rules. Guess what? Not our books. The patrons are paying for the books with their taxes. If they have a card, give them the book. Even if they don't have their card on them, but have one on file and can prove who they are, good enough for me. Even if they do this all of the time, again, fine with me. Get over it. We librarians are shepards not gatekeepers. Put the books in the people's hands. End of story.10. Believe wholeheartedly that each customer service encounter makes or breaks thatperson’s perception of the library (this applies to customers and staff)9. Pay attention to your own customer serviceexperiences outside and inside the library — consciously observe these interactions8. Learn from the worst of those experiences — adjust accordingly7. Emulate the best of those experiences6. Keep your mind open5. Keep your heart open4. Smile warmly3. Expect the best of each person2. Expect and commit to your personal best1. Start fresh each day, knowing that the daily work that you do has the power to make a positive difference in the life of another person — and isn’t that why you enjoy working in a library?
Post this list at your desk. We had it there for about a year. Make these your top customer service goals. Set a standard that your department will provide the best customer service in the library (that's what we did). Then, as your library as a whole improves, set the goal that you will provide the best customer service of any library in your area.
Good customer service makes for happier patrons and as a result, happier employees. Besides, how hard is it to treat everyone the way we would most want to be treated.