Library Service & the Culture of Haste

Library Service Expectations

Library Service expectations, like service expectations in any sector, have changed dramatically over the past decade.  We live in a culture of instant gratification.  Libraries used to have few if any competitors.  Now they have innumerable online service providers who can provide content quickly and conveniently, albeit for a fee.  Our library users are the same consumers who have gotten used to streaming movies from Netflix downloading kindle books from Amazon.  I see this as a good thing.  It makes libraries raise their game in terms of service.

The Culture of Haste and Library Service Expectations

A good friend of mine, I’ll call her Sarah, runs the public service department of a large academic library.  She’s the kind of librarian who likes to provide good library service to the students and faculty.  These days good library service means fast library service.  Interlibary loan is an area of library service that has received a lot of attention over the past decade.  Once a slow process, a lot of work has gone into streamlining the delivery chain, improving the tools and generally making it a timely service that meets the needs of today’s researchers.  This process has been achieved because of people like Sarah who work hard to ensure that items in their library collections are loaned quickly and efficiently to researchers elsewhere who need them.

Library Service and the Culture of Haste

Are We Racing to Meet Library Service Expectations?

One day not too long ago Sarah was speaking to the staff in the interlibrary lending department and explaining that for each item they were working on there was an actual researcher waiting for the book.  One of the lending staff took exception to this and said that Sarah was “buying in to the culture of haste.”

What’s Wrong With the Culture of Haste

OK, I get it.  Yes, we live in a society full of instant gratification.  The rushing can be too much at times.  Stress related illness is at an all time high. We need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses.  Every time I’m on the road someone is rushing in a way that puts other lives at risk.  Sometimes rushing isn’t necessary.  And often it can have negative consequences.  Sometimes rushing means a decline in quality, but it doesn’t have to.

What’s Right With the Culture of Haste

Librarians like Sarah have it right. It is important to Sarah to provide good library service to all researchers, not just the ones at her own institution. She also wants to provide good library service to researchers at other colleges and universities who need to use items from her library’s collection.  Her colleague accused her of buying in to the culture of haste as if it were a bad thing.  When it comes to library service, it’s not.  It is simply providing good library service in an environment of ever increasing expectations.  Where we have the tools and staffing to provide fast service, why not?

How Can We Help Our Colleagues Embrace the Culture of Haste?

Many of us are able to see the value in providing super-timely library service yet work with people who don’t get it.  So what can we do? I think Sarah had a good idea.  She explained the context to her colleague.  Unfortunately her colleague didn’t get it.  This time.  Perhaps with repeated explanations the expectation will begin to sink in.  Perhaps by explaining in in a context meaningful to the colleague it would help.  Obviously this is going to differ from person to person but everyone has been in a situation in which they didn’t like waiting.  Rather than getting frustrated at colleagues who don’t understand the changing nature of library service expectations we need to continually have the conversation on why faster library service is important.

What are your experiences dealing with colleagues who have different views on library service expectations?

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The TEDx Talk Every Librarian Should Watch

I often say libraries are not innovative, and when I say this I do so very hesitantly.  As much as I don’t wish to offend those who share my passion for libraries, I also feel very strongly that libraries need to step up their game in the face of competition from companies like Amazon and Google.  This is what entrepreneur Andrew Roskill is saying–much more eloquently than I ever have– in his talk recorded at TEDx Charleston a couple of months ago.  This is a “call to arms” for libraries to provide a niche service based on what they do well, and to do so in a way that’s “easy, elegant and engaging”–like a business.  Watch this talk!  It’s 10 minutes well spent.

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Customer Service in the Digital Age

For the past couple of weeks I have been preparing a class on delivering excellent service to today’s library user.  While I have practical experience in delivering the type of service that is expected in libraries today, thinking about user expectations was something I had not done in quite a while.  The thing is, while the means of delivering excellent service–in libraries and elsewhere–have changed over the decades, the principles that define excellent service have not.  I don’t think they ever will.  What has changed is customer expectations of convenience, which means libraries really need to step up their game in terms of the services they provide.

 

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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.