Sunday, March 29, 2009


I tried and tried to find some sort of occult, hermetic, or alchemical tie-in for this months topic but I just couldn't manage it. Here is a nice image. A giant hand lighting a candle. Nice and occult but not especially relevant. Enjoy.

This month, I have really been thinking about service and how that applies to our field. Libraries, especially public libraries are a service industry. We often get our heads stuck up in the philosophical clouds of librarianship. Sure we provide a unique service. Sure we are one of the only sources of unbiased information (unless you are asking about libraries). Sure we are an asset to the community, serving all sectors equally. We provide secure access to information that is accessible to all. Yes, that stuff is nice and true but at the end of the day, if we provide crappy service, we will have fewer customers and much less brand loyalty.

Libraries are a brand. On the whole we are well thought of. In the 2005 Perceptions study from OCLC, 79% of respondents ranked libraries "favorably" or "very favorably" when asked to "indicate how you would rate each source/place with respect to the information available." That's 2% ahead of bookstores: Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton, Borders. Before your head gets too big let me tell you that faceless search engines beat us by nearly 10 %.

Here is a test that many of you may actually get to run. If your funding agency were to discuss cutting your funding, how many of your users would protest? How many would go to the meetings and speak? How many would work a petition drive or make phone calls? How many would shrug and go on with their day?

Every customer you work with on a daily basis is a voter or a paying student. When it comes down to it, they are your boss. If you take care of them, they will take care of you.

If you need a little more convincing read Seth Godin's blog post, Looking for Yes. He compares his experience at his local Post Office and at a Fedex store. He says that the people at the Post Office always hassle him about his package as though they are trying to find a reason NOT to serve him. On the other hand, the people at the Fedex store are always doing everything they can to help him.

Here is an example from my actual library. Someone in our neighborhood hosts foreign exchange students. Once a quarter or so, we get a group of teenagers who speak very poor English come in to use the computers. They are often told, rather flatly, that they can't get a card because they don't have an ID with their current address. What should happen is that the library staff person should try to find out what they want from us and try to make that happen. The majority of the time, they just want to e-mail home. We offer a computer use card (no check-out privileges) with any ID. That is the difference between a clock puncher doing their job and engaged customer service.