Disrupting the Library, part 2

Disruptive Suggestion #1:  Eliminate Persistent Customer Pain Points

This is a great place to start because the very suggestion gets at one of the biggest controversies among librarians:  what do we call the public we serve?  Lots of librarians shy away from using the term customers because they feel the people they serve differ from the customers in a store or other business.  But how?  Because no money changes hands? Actually, money does change hands–taxpayers fund public and school libraries, university students pay for library services through their fees, and library users often pay for value added services like printing or interlibrary borrowing.  Some librarians perceive that library users differ from customers because they don’t see the competition in our “marketplace”–but what about Amazon, Google, and Wikipedia?  Perhaps the objection comes from an association with having to “do things” for customers, while the library model has always had a self-empowerment vibe to it.

My opinion is if we don’t think of library users as customers we are giving ourselves permission to provide them with less-than-excellent service.  But that said, I respect the other arguments my colleagues make to call our public “users,” or “patrons.” I certainly don’t want to offend anyone with the suggestion to think of library users as customers and really, the semantics doesn’t much matter.  What matters is how we treat them, and as my library hero S. R. Ranganathan said, it’s our job to “save the time of the reader.”

The article very rightly states that every industry–libraries included–has practices that drive customers crazy.  I would argue that every library probably has practices that drive its user community crazy.  The article asks, “What practices exist in your industry that drive customers crazy? How do all companies in your industry behave stupidly? Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.”

So how do we do this in a library?  First think locally about your own policies, procedures and services.  Ask yourself what policies are simply outdated? What do you receive complaints or suggestions about?  What has your data told you?  When you (or your friends or colleagues) use your library, what seems amiss? Maybe it is providing more assistance in the stacks?  Maybe you have restrictions on the number of items users can charge out or the number of times items may be renewed? Do these restrictions still make sense? Perhaps it’s a more seamless library instruction class request system?  Maybe it’s a better way to manage rush processing requests (or better yet, eliminating that backlog in the first place)? Maybe it’s a space reservation system?  Instead of the knee-jerk, “we couldn’t do that,” start to ask yourself how you could do that.  How can you save the time of the user?  Research what other libraries are doing. Be open to the possibility and you will be open to true transformation.

This is the second in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry

Read Disrupting the Library, part 3.


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