November 3, 2009 2 Comments
I was excited, honored, thrilled and other adjectives that end in “-ed” to be able to contribute to Michael Porter and David Lee King‘s Library101 project. It first started out with a call (via Twitter) from Michael asking for pictures of library staff holding up a giant 1 or 0. At the time I wasn’t sure what this was all about but I was game. Anything to help me hone my photography skills I was able to get many of my fellow co-workers to pose for me.
I was then surprised, elated to help Michael beta test his Zazzle store for the Library 101 merchandise. The final surprise came when Michael asked me if I’d like to contribute an essay to the web site he was creating to launch the Library 101 project. Here it is in the original unedited version:
New Library 101
So what exactly does the New Library 101 need to be part of the future? In my opinion there is one very important piece that needs to be there for the library of the future to stay afloat – customer service. Without our customers we won’t be here no matter what fancy words we use, what new fangled gadgets we have, what exciting programs we offer. Now customer service is nothing new to libraries, however, my version of customer service includes three aspects. If the library of the future will focus on these aspects they will grow and stay relevant.
Recently I got a Tweet from Jimmy Willis (@katannsky2) asking me if I had any career tips for a future librarian. My words of wisdom where “to learn technology. Embrace it. It will be a very big part of your job.” Be current. What are the latest trends? Adopt them, learn about them and use them. If you don’t you’ll be left behind because your customers are using this technology. And more than likely they are coming to you for help with it
Technology means not only the hardware/software we use in our branches but includes your presence on the web. Whether it is your web site, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or other social web sites – remember that not every customer walks through your physical doors. Make sure you have a presence out there in the digital world. But don’t limit it to just a Facebook page or a bunch of pictures on Flickr – engage your customers, start a conversation with them, bring them back to you (whether it is into your physical building or your catalog or one of your programs).
I understand that funding doesn’t always allow every library to have tons of the latest and greatest hardware or even software. However, you can still educate yourself about technology even if your library can’t afford a Kindle, a new fancy web site or you don’t have an iPhone. Use what technology you do have to your benefit. Get out on the web and socially network. So many of your fellow librarians are on the social web, network with them and find out what they already know. Ask questions or use your searching skills so when that customer invariably asks you how do they do ___ you can use your network as a resource.
Please, don’t ever tell a customer you don’t know and let that be the end of the conversation. That is not an acceptable customer service response. Sure, it’s okay to say you don’t know but continue. “You know I’m curious about this too. Let’s research this together so we can both learn.” Customers come to you for help and hey would much rather have a real human admit they don’t know but work together to find the answer than some cold response that boils down to “go away I can’t be bothered”.
Above all the library of the future must remember who it’s audience is and what they want or need. As Thomas Brevik (@Miromurr) tweeted from the Internet Librarian International 2009:
* #ili2009 Stop insulting the user by guessing what the user want!
* #ili2009 start with the question: is this what our users want?
Once you have figured out what your customer wants not only meet that need but exceed it. But how to find out what the customer wants. Don’t rely on surveys on your OPACs or your web site, you have an opportunity every single day in every single interaction with your customers (via email, chat, face to face, or phone). Just go that extra step and see what need isn’t being met. Keeping in mind that meeting someone’s need doesn’t always require a big budget – sometimes just listening to them makes all the difference in the world and you’ll have a lifelong return customer.
Is it a guarantee that if the library of the future follows these three aspects of customer service they will survive? Well nothing is a sure beat but I would put good money on the library of the future (if it focuses on customer service) will be around for all of us to enjoy.
So here is to the future of libraries. Long may they reign.