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The PLA Blog | Official Blog of the Public Library Association

“You don’t want to join, you want to belong”

Customer Service in the 21st Century sessionThe title for this post comes from a sign I saw in one of the hotel elevators when I first arrived yesterday. I’ve heard Karen Hyman speak probably about 4 times by now, but it’s never too many times. Her well-attended presentation this morning on “The Customer-Centered Library: How to Stop Tweaking and Start Doing It with 12 NEW Steps,” has elements of her other presentations I’ve attended, but you know, she’s like a good movie, I just keep coming back. That, and customer service continues to be a topic you just can’t say enough about.

“People vote with their feet”
We live in a world where libraries compete with the likes of Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at home wifi, movies on demand, Netflix, “Send to phone” options, and more, it’s about service. Karen’s Big Fear is that “Libraries (and what they can offer) will be increasingly irrelevant and invisible to the majority of people.” In my mind, the Web 2.0 world of membership to many networks including MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Google and Yahoo! Groups, and more, emphasizes that people like to *belong* in places (the amazing competition for numbers of Friends aside). Karen points out that if libraries are to become The Third Place, which implies a place you go that isn’t home, isn’t work, but doesn’t make you feel like a loser to be there, we need to provide quality service that is centered on the customer.

I believe that the idea of foot voting can apply to the online branch of your library (the web site), as well. Creating a site that’s easy to use from home, that highlights online services like databases and other paid services and makes them easy to access, and use technologies that appeal to patrons but also serve specific purposes to the library and the site. It keeps libraries relevant, but also gives you a whole other point of service for people who don’t come to the library proper.

Don’t feel like a loser, feel like you belong
So what brings people to The Third Place? While Karen answered this question ten times over this morning, talking about using failure as a learning experience, ditching your rules (especially the ones that sound dumb to patrons), offering choices, and all sorts of things that are, generally, considered work that is worth it, the major bits I want to focus on are about customer centrism, and just plain caring.

Libraries and librarians need to accept that we *cannot* change customer behaviors. Anyone who has tried to teach someone how to use Google, or how to search the catalog the way a librarian searches a catalog should know. I look at it as a sort of “March of the Librarians” for patrons: observe how customers do things, examine their customs and habits, ask questions about what would work, talk it over, then apply it. Get out of your head, and get into the customer’s head. Everything from library displays to text messaging to Library Elf, it all fits in here. The “Have it your way” Burger King approach can go a long way to making customers feel right at home, improve the perception of the library, and increase foot traffic physically and virtually.

Karen Hyman talks about being customer centricAnd what could remind someone more of a place where they want to be than caring? People who work in libraries *need* to care. It’s a service industry, and attitude directly affects anyone’s ability to provide quality service. The best thing libraries can do when they recruit new staff members, and the best thing library schools can do in recruiting students), is to find people who care about providing good service, who care about doing a good job, who aren’t bitter and disconnected, who seek an opportunity to help people, an who really care about the profession (and aren’t there to live the stereotype). Make sure that the people you hire and that people you have are doing what they care about, as opposed to what they couldn’t care less about, avoiding the “children’s librarian who hates children” syndrome.

Libraries need workers who care about libraries, care about their jobs, and care about the people they serve (you know, without going overboard, or being crazy stalkerish about it). Caring can be the ginseng/caffeine/gingko punch for your professional life, if you let it. If you’re already trapped there at your job, and you can’t get away, even if you are unhappy, why not make it festive by caring. If you care, they’ll care, and everyone is happy.

Go to Step 12: Make something happen
Even just with the two points of service and caring, libraries can really start to do something and make a difference, and doing the work, however much or little, will create results that are overwhelmingly worth it.

Comment Pages

There are 4 Comments to "“You don’t want to join, you want to belong”"

  • Mary says:

    Some of us have been practicing Karen steps for a long time. It is something that I learned as a child who had to deal with many paradigm changes. Change is constant that you sometimes expect and other times you don’t. So you get excited or say “ouch” and go for it. It keeps life interesting for you and those around you. That’s why I love this field of work, I just hope the profession is strong enough to move with the same passion.

  • Len says:

    Spotted this at the bottom …
    ==
    Libraries need workers who care …
    ==
    and I’d like to say ‘Never a truer word spoken!’ That is SO right. Care is something that shows. In my travels in Asia and the Middle East, over 20 years or so, I’ve seen that this even crosses over language and social barriers. Care communicates. I’m seeing it in the manager of the reception venue our daughter will be using for her wedding at the end of March. This woman is Care all the way, discussing and suggesting and accommodating with my daughter’s plans (and budget!) at each step of the planning. I don’t know how your conference venue cared for you and the other participants, but if a conference services organizer can be a caring person then everything will fall into place. I think.

  • Mindy Kittay says:

    “Libraries need workers who care about libraries, care about their jobs, and care about the people they serve…”

    Boy do I agree with this statement. Sometimes I get discouraged by the level of committment of some of the library employees that I work with. I see this mostly in relationship to training and learning new skills, which of course are mostly technology related. I think if you care about your job you would automatically be interested in learning the new and necessary skills to be a better employee and provide better customer service. But sometimes it seems like pulling teeth. There are the few that are enthusiastic about learning opportunities and they help me to stay encouraged.

  • Barbara Mease says:

    Bravo!
    Boy, oh boy, all service industries have a duty to provide excellent service
    to the people they serve!
    Thank you for your so true to-the-heart speach about the wonderful world of libraries!

    With Kindest Regards,
    Barbara Mease
    Gloucester County Library

 

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