or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Innovation In Queueing

   March 26th, 2009

I was shopping with a friend in the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine, and ended up in a check-out line.

It was a nice Saturday afternoon, the store was crowded, and the lines at the registers were long. But L.L. Bean is one of those companies that is totally focused on customer service, and they were doing something I've never seen before (granted, I don't get out much, and I avoid shopping whenever possible, but still, this was cool).

In addition to the cashiers at the registers, there was also another employee walking up and down the check-out line with a portable scanner and barcode printer. He scanned each item a customer had, and then printed out a receipt with a barcode. When the customer got to the cash register, the cashier just scanned that one barcode, instead of fiddling around scanning each item's barcode.

It was amazing how much faster the line moved, and I got to wondering if something like this could be employed in libraries.

Of course, many staff and patrons enjoy the informal small talk while the books are being checked out, and this would all but eliminate that. And self-check machines are there for patrons who are in a hurry. But still, I was impressed with the way L.L. Bean identified and launched such a simple service that had such a large and positive impact on the shopping experience.

Maybe we could at least get the moms with the foot-tall stack of picture books to pre-scan their items before they get to the Circulation Desk.

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4 Responses to “Innovation In Queueing”

  1. js Says:

    Yep! You don’t get around much.
    Go to an Apple Store! They are usually set up so every employee on the floor can check out any customer without anyone ever having to go to a register.

    PS sorry to hear about Google replacing all the need for reference librarians

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    I’ve heard that Apple is supposed to be all about the customers, but the last time I was in an Apple store I got yelled at for having a digital camera. yelling != friendly customer service.

    Also, as to google v. librarians – television was supposed to kill radio, but I still listen to the radio almost every day. So as a librarian, I’m not too worried about it.

  3. Cynthia Says:

    Some grocery stores have a self-service version of this scanner that libraries could employ. You get a scanner when you start shopping and scan the items as you put them in your cart (or recyclable bags you brought with you). Then when you get to the register, everything is already scanned.

  4. Jane Allard Says:

    I am new to your blog, and to the discussions. As an introduction, et me say first that I had a full day of choice and leisure in my college’s library last Thursday, and feel that if I was ever locked in a library overnight I would be truly truly happy!!
    Here’s my bold opinion: Scanners/auto checkouts are a bane to society. Why do we now dislike standing still, in a line? I for one always people-watch, people-listen, hear the music and assess it, check what others are buying or checking out,sheesh–I just take time, and a breath! I feel for the young parents who have kids in a line, naturally. But taking the opportunity to pause in the flow-flow-flow, go-go-go rush of time can be refreshing. At the market I notice the decorative seasonal silliness that adorns the store, in the library I lift mine eyes to acknowledge the displays someone has purposefully created, and even in the bank branch (gasp I go IN)I seek the floral arrangement donated by my nearby shop…works of everyday art!