The 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.
And 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.