An ongoing conversation about the changing landscape of public libraries.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Makeover @ the Library

I’m not normally this superficial, but I think it’s time for a makeover.

I was working on the reference desk recently, and dishing out my typically superb customer service, when a patron said something that surprised me. As a public librarian I’m used to patrons who are, shall we say, different. So I’m not easily shocked. But this was an exception. I’m not sure who she was addressing, but as she walked away from the desk, she mumbled: “well, that wasn’t so painful.”

Great! Right? I provided fantastic service and solved her problem in a way that was shockingly painless. Job well done.

But wait. Why was she so surprised? I just did my job - the same job that has been done all around the country for hundreds of years. What happened? Has the public library become the dentist office of social services?

I think we need a makeover.

And public libraries don’t just need a brush-up, we need the works. From interpersonal communication to public relations, libraries need to make a renewed effort to sell our services. I refuse to be the yard sale of information services. Make them laugh, make them smile, make them leave saying “wow!”

I’m no Miss Manners, but here are a few tips I’ve employed at the reference desk, in the stacks, and other places around the library:

  • Smile! Seriously, it doesn’t hurt, and you might even get a date. Give patrons the impression that you are not going to ridicule them for asking a question (even if you will later behind their back).
  • Make them laugh! Know any jokes? Talking to patrons should be like public speaking. You don’t just jump into facts and statistics and call numbers, you have to warm up the crowd. They are your guests - make them feel comfortable.
  • Stop shh’ing people! This applies all over the library. Let people be people. We have to encourage our patrons to be civil, but we don’t have to crucify them for being themselves. Remember Ranganathan’s Five Laws? The first law was: books are for use. How about this one: library is a place, and the space is for use. Sure, reserve a quiet area if there are patrons who need it, but don’t hold all of your patrons to the same impossible expectations.
  • Treat your patrons like fans! I’m positive that Mick Jagger does not like all of his fans. Just like patrons, some fans are creeps. But unless a restraining order seems necessary, be nice to your patrons; treat them like your friends. If you can manage to be warm and inviting, then your space and collection will be used, and you’ll have customers coming back again and again. And, hey, if you keep it up, you may even get some groupies!

More to come on selling your services...

Photo credit:
Advertising Ephemera Collection - Database #A0160
Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library*

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your post. However, I disagree with the "Shush-ing" point. Public librarians have been too quick to give up this traditional role. The library SHOULD be a place where people can come for peace and quiet. There are few other quiet places in the world. Unfortnately, many people do not recognize this. It is up to the librarian to maintain some level of quietness and respect for others.