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

Customer Service Reminders

   April 26th, 2007

photo of L.A.S.T. sign taped to cash registerThe photo here is a little sign taped to the cash register at a Dunkin Donuts in Chelmsford, MA. It is positioned so that the cashier will see it and remember those simple rules to good customer service.

As I waited for my bacon-and-egg on a plain bagel (no cheese), I pondered these customer service guidelines. They seemed to fit the library world, too - "Listen" and "Solve," definitely, and "Thank" should be part of every interaction.

But "Apologize;" this one struck me as odd. I mean, yes, quite a few of my daily patron interactions involve apologizing - "I'm sorry, the book you want it check out," "I'm sorry, all of the computers are being used right now," "I'm sorry, I don't know why our catalog does that," etc...

Should it be an indicator that something is wrong when you prepare to apologize or compensate for shortcomings of your work environment? If these are known problems, doesn't it make more sense to look for solutions? In the case of unavailable books, of course I always ask if the patron would like to request it from another library.

But when it comes to the catalog, I am sick of apologizing for it. That soapbox is so crowded that there's little new I can add - except to say that people in my library have started looking very seriously at Evergreen. And best of all, rather than being skeptical about open source, they're excited about the possibilities.

It'll be a long process before we switch to a different catalog search interface, but the day I can stop apologizing for our catalog will be a happy day. And if the interface is user-friendly enough and patrons can easily request checked-out books themselves, then maybe we can cross "Apologize" off of the little "L.A.S.T." lists entirely.
apologizing, customer service, evergreen, libraries, library, public libraries, public library

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