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


Saying No In My Library, And How We Can Say It Less Often

   July 24th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I know I've mentioned before that my library has a strong "Get To Yes" policy for customer service - we want to do whatever we can to meet the patrons' needs.

To identify areas where we're coming up short, occasionally in the past we've kept "No Logs" at the service desks - log sheets for staff to track patron questions where we had no alternative but to answer "no." For this fiscal year, we're really trying to improve customer service even more, so we've made the Reference Desk's "No Log" a permanent thing.

Below is a snapshot of our "No" questions from July 1st until now - mostly museum passes this library doesn't offer, extended study room use, or printer/copier questions. But there's other good stuff in there that I think we can improve on, and that's what this is all about:

nologJuly2014

Nothing earth-shattering - which is good, really - but small steps are sometimes the best approach for improvements. I'm really curious to see how these things trend over time, too.

Also, slightly related to this is OCLC's Top reasons for no - the reason libraries report for interlibrary loan requests being denied. I can't remember where I saw this link posted, but I like this sort of thing.



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Does Customer Service Go Both Ways

   July 3rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Just a quickie pre-4th of July post. This picture surfaced on Reddit awhile ago, but I still find it interesting:

sign with different prices for being polite

On the surface this sign is great, and almost makes it worth it to charge for library materials just so we could do this. But then it also implies that we would treat people differently, which I don't like. It's tough to politely serve some* library patrons, but that's what we're there for. I wonder if rewarding polite patron behavior actually increases it, or would it breed obstinacy in patrons who otherwise would be perfectly fine but don't like being told what to do.

Not to mention that this sign kind of punishes shy and anti-social people, through no fault of their own. I think stores and restaurants where the workers shout "Good morning!" or "One in the door!" from across the room should have to charge less when it makes customers uncomfortable.

 


*Threatening or insulting behavior is a whole different topic



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Good Ideas, Not Easily Sold

   August 29th, 2012 Brian Herzog

A couple of totally unrelated really good ideas (I think), before I head to Ohio for a long Labor Day weekend:

Good Idea #1
First, for all you DVD collection development librarians out there, here is a must-add for the library's collection:

The Red Green Show box set

A 50-DVD set of The Red Green Show! 300 episodes = ~124 hours of wisdom from Possum Lodge, plus bonus material. Of course, the $299.99 price tag made my colleague who does our DVD selection just say "no."

Good Idea #2
Apple Store genius training manualSecond, an Apple Store training manual for their Genius Bar employees was reviewed at Gizmodo. From the tl;dr write up on BoingBoing, some great training gems caught my eye:

What does a Genius do? Educates. How? "Gracefully." He also "Takes Ownership" "Empathetically," "Recommends" "Persuasively," and "Gets to 'Yes'" "Respectfully."

From the comments, it appears the existence of this manual met with a large degree of cynicism. However, swap out "Genius" for "Librarian" and this exactly sums up what our desk staff should aspire to.

Taking ownership of a problem can be difficult in a public library, because not everything is something library staff can help with. But when it is within our power - especially concerning a library resource or service - taking ownership is the best way solve a patron's problem. Because if one of our patrons can't use a library resource, then it's a library problem.

And initially I was uncomfortable with the word "persuasively," because it sounds very retail. But after I thought about it, I often actively try to persuade patrons all the time, in the sense of recommending - and leading them to - what I think is the best resource. "Yes, maybe this recently-published book on skin cancer is a better choice, even though that one from 1995 is thinner and has more pictures. Of course, you can always take both." Or, "Instead of trying to figure out how to cite Yahoo Answers in your term paper, how about I show you how to use our journal databases?" Of course librarians persuade - empathetically and respectfully - but don't force or withhold information. We certainly try to recommend the best resources possible, but it's always up to the patron to make their own decisions.

Not that I should be surprised Apple has good customer service ideas - I've certainly drawn inspiration from them before.

I hope everyone has a good long weekend - see you next week.



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The Patron Whisperer (+ contest)

   August 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Unshelved comic stripI'm not sure what got me on this, but all week I've been thinking about the language library staff use with patrons, and what we're able to convey beyond the actual words we use.

I'm sure I learned about this in various customer service workshops in the past, and I'm also sure there's a name for it, but I can't remember what it is. It seems to be most relevant when there is a problem or staff has to correct a patron for violating a policy - in those cases, the words we use can go a long way to either help diffuse or inflame the situation. Here are a couple examples of what I'm talking about:

Example 1: A patron asks for help locating a book that the computer says is Checked In, but when the staff person goes to the shelf with the patron, the book isn't there.

  • Staff Response A: "It looks like someone put the book in the wrong place; let's go back to the desk and request it from another library."
  • Staff Response B: "It should be right here, but is definitely missing; let's go back to the desk and request it from another library."

Example 2: A patron walks by the desk eating a hamburger, which violates the library's no-food policy.

  • Staff Response A: "They don't allow food in the library, you'll have to throw that away."
  • Staff Response B: "Could you please finish your meal outside before you come into the library?"

Example 3: The computer a patron is using is extremely slow.

  • Staff Response A: "Yeah, these computers are really old, so you'll just have to wait."
  • Staff Response B: "I'm not sure what the problem is, but you're welcome to move to a different computer or I can reboot this one for you."

Alright, these aren't great examples, but here's my point: in all the Response A's, the patron is getting the message that someone is to blame, whereas the Response B's provide the patron with a solution without any passive-aggressiveness.

This is probably a major sociological interpersonal communication issue - whether it's better to give someone a neutral third-party "they" to focus their displeasure upon, or to dissipate the anger by working on a solution rather than assigning blame. I suppose it varies depending on the level of emotion involved, but I personally prefer the Response B approach, because it addresses the cause of the problem, rather than symptoms.

Let's have a contest!
Librarian's Book of Lists, by George EberhartSince I can't remember what this type of phrasing is called, I can't look up examples or tips on implementing it. So I was hoping that other library staff could suggest some common patron interactions, and some good wording to handle the situations.

I posted this as a question on Unshelved Answers, and whichever answer there gets the most votes over there will win a copy of The Librarian's Book of Lists, by George M. Eberhart. It's an interesting book, and not just because it includes my list of 10 Patron Pet Peeves.

Even if you're not interested in the contest, please do post any wording suggestions you have - I'm really interested in the subtleties of language (like the difference between "yes, but..." and "yes, and..."), and this is something that can be practically useful to a lot of people. Thanks.

Update 8/20/10: Congratulations to Jeff from Gather No Dust - his suggestion got the most votes, so he wins the book. Thanks to everyone, and be sure to check out the suggestions at Unshelved Answers.



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Shopping for a Library

   February 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Shop for a librarianI liked this post about a library experience Marilyn Johnson wrote while researching her book, This Book is Overdue!* - actually, I like reading any non-librarian review of a library experience, because it's the best way to learn how well libraries are serving patrons.

Another post worth reading is Do Library Staff Know What The Users Want? (via Jessamyn). Good user experience has to start with library staff making an effort to accommodate patrons' needs and wants, but we will not out-smart (or out-stupid?) patrons about everything.

"Anticipate and respond" are words to live by, but it's also a good idea to go right to the source. Here are a few ideas for that:

  • Easy-to-find suggestion box at each service desk and online (and promote it)
  • Teen advisory board, or Adult Advisory Board, or ESL Advisory Board, etc
  • Focus groups (private and confidential) and open forums to invite comments, reviews and suggestions
  • Encourage members of the Friends of the Library to regularly relate their library experiences, good and bad
  • Trustees organize a "secret shopper" program - especially to test out library policies, which will help keep them up-to-date with patron needs
  • Have evaluations at the end of each program (library-sponsored as well as club/group meetings) and ask open questions as well as specific questions about the facility
  • Pay attention to what people ask - if everyone needs to ask where the bathroom is located, that might be an area to improve
  • If a patron comes to you with a comment/complaint/suggestion, listen, and encourage (but don't require) them to put it in writing to make actionable paper trails
  • Ask friends and family what their experiences have been
  • Visit other libraries for a fresh perspective, and share ideas with other librarians
  • Then of course, celebrate Work Like A Patron Day

[Please share additional ideas in the comments]
And when you do make adjustments based on patron input, get feedback on the new setup, too. Nothing is static, and it's possible to improve improvements.

Using the library shouldn't be annoying or complicated or antagonistic. Occasionally patrons tell me that they come to my library because the staff at their town's library was rude or unhelpful, or they can't find parking, or the policies are prohibitively restrictive. It should make me feel good about where I work, but really it makes me sad they had to shop around for a library.

I am glad they came to us, but I also always tell them to make sure they report their complaints to their home library to make sure they know about it and can work to improve it. Most of the time they laugh at that idea, as if they've washed their hands of their home library. What really worries me are the people who have a bad experience at one library and never go back or to another one, and instead take their information needs, community participation, children, and votes elsewhere.

There has to be a balance between what the patrons need and what each individual library can offer, but if we don't support our patrons, why would they support us?

 


*Full disclosure: I was mentioned in the book (page 20 and 258!), but absolutely read it anyway. And if you're interested in obituaries, I also enjoyed her previous The Dead Beat.

And check it out - there's a contest to win a This Book Is Overdue! mousepad



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/13/09

   December 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Customer Service ComicSince it's the season for goodwill towards men and all that, here are some exchanges that are the exact opposite. Boing Boing linked to a bookstore's website that posts funny conversations he has with his customers.

Hey, bookstores get reference questions, too. What I thought was funny was how many times a library was mentioned - and how he referred the really hopeless people to us:

[a customer calls the store and asks...]
How can you tell if a book is old?
Age is a state of mind.
OK. But what makes a book old?
It's relative kind of thing.
OK. But, hum, how do you know if it is old?
Try looking at the date.
Where's that?
Usually on the copyright page.
Where's that?
At the library.
OK, thanks.

Yeah, yeah, we have that page - it's on the same shelf as Sherlock Holmes' biography, our photographs of Socrates, and our primary sources on dinosaurs. Lots more healthy cynicism on the bookstore's website.



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