Monday, April 26, 2010

Doing our job

My coworker sent out an email about an interesting topic on NPR’s website. The topic at its base is customer service. More specifically, it’s about the terms we use in libraries and what our patrons understand or don’t understand. I shouldn’t have said “patrons” as more libraries are adopting the term “library users,” which brings me to a funny story.

Working at a public library always makes for good stories. Anyway, I work in Youth Services, but one night an adult woman came into the library. She was very polite at first, asking if she could use our phone. Carol, my coworker, told her “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow patrons to use our business lines. There’s a payphone by the entrance.” The woman said “You don’t allow what?!” Carol repeated what she had said, and the woman started yelling, saying she was not a patron; she is a United States citizen who has the right to use a phone. Obviously, she did not know what “patron” meant. Carol tried to explain further, but the woman was not listening to any of it. She really did believe Carol was insulting her.

I suppose that story is unnecessary, but it somewhat shows how our library users may not understand what we say. “Circulation,” “stacks,” “OPAC”… those are just a few that come across my mind. What about with Readers Advisory? A patron, or “library user” may not understand when you ask them about their favorite fiction genres. Some may not even know the difference between fiction and non-fiction (I’ve come across this plenty of times.) This ties into a lot of what I learned not only on the job but in my Reference class. It kills me when I see one of my coworkers give a person a slip of paper with the call number written on it, telling them “You can find it over there.” Does it really take that much more energy to get up and show the person where it is? Or simply telling them “Here’s the call number.” They might not even know what a “call number” is.
As I mentioned earlier, I work in Youth Services, which is on the first floor of the library building. Many people who walk in see us first. Plenty of adults come in and ask questions, and most of us do our best at answering them (even if we need to call back-up from Information Services upstairs.) However, I have one or two coworkers who automatically say “This is Youth Services…Information Services is upstairs” whenever they are asked a question by an adult. We are there for the patrons, to provide them materials and services. It shouldn’t matter what department we work in; we should always try to serve those patrons. At least that’s what I believe.

I don’t know why more librarians don’t take the time to provide good customer service. I don’t care if our patrons aren’t customers in the traditional sense (i.e. buying a product from us). They are still coming to us for help, whether it is to find a book, an answer, or to use a computer. When our patrons decide to go to a bookstore because they get better customer service, or turn to Wikipedia or Google for answers, not only are we no longer of good use to them, but we are letting down our profession.