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patrons as customers

September 1, 2011

Customer service  and providing excellent goods and services is at the heart of Librarianship.

This thought stemmed from an experience I had recently. My local library was hosting a summer game series, part of which was online and part of which was reading 5 books, filling out a form, and turning it in at the local library. When you turn the form in, you receive a code for an online badge, which also entered you into the grand prize drawing for various electronic gadgetry. I got an email update about the end of the contest looming and decided to venture to my local branch to secure my entry. I printed off the form, filled it out and went to the reference desk, where I was met with blank stares and lots of um-ing and ah-ing. “Oh, the online contest is over, it ended last week,” was the response to my query about gamecodes. I was confused, certainly the only reason I’d come in was because of an email received the day before reminding us that the end was nigh. The reference desk attendant then sat back in her chair and started doing whatever it is she was doing on her computer. The other attendant hadn’t even bothered to look up. Now, I could have fought and been obnoxious (in another lifetime I would have, but my more adult self has learned that won’t get you anywhere), instead I decided to try another branch. The second branch turned to be much more useful, the reference desk attendant took my form, gave me a coupon for free bread at Great Harvest, and added the badge to my online page, it took less than five minutes.

The question I ask is whether the first person had know the game wasn’t over and wanted to get back to checking her Facebook status, if she didn’t know how to add the badges to the online game, or if she truly thought the game was over. In any case, the answer is that she provided incredibly poor customer service and, if I were a less determined individual, she might have discouraged someone from coming back to the library.

Click the picture to link to the blog Connecting Librarian, it's an interesting story/perspective on customer service.

Coming from a customer service background, the antipathy that is shown to patrons by classmates and colleagues is disheartening and destructive. Now, I’m not saying we should treat patrons like traditional customers (they aren’t always right, after all), but we should at least take the initiative to provide excellent care to them. Sitting at a desk, eyes glued to the computer, is not encouraging someone to seek your help. Neither is giving quick answers then immediately returning to your computer work, without making sure that the answer is enough or truly what they are looking for.

Being a librarian is a service position, the entire job should be focused on providing quality services to your patrons, which includes providing them with someone who is friendly, responsible and happy to help them. Because, without these returning patrons, libraries really are screwed.

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