Customer Service in Libraries

I’m not the only one touring libraries lately.  Jamie LaRue visited some other states recently and had some insightful comments about trends in libraries.   While he acknowledges what we do well, he also has a few suggestions that might help us concentrate on areas where we could serve our patrons even better, without spending much, if any, money. 

To me, space planning and collection management are both a huge part of customer service.   Accommodating furniture set ups, attractive displays with lots of visuals, relevant up-to-date, clean collections and an intuitive arrangement of the library all make it easier for people to find things they need, or something appealing, or an easy-to-approach staffer. 

And of course great customer service also means friendly, knowledgeable people willing to make sure you’ve found everything you need before sending you off on your own.  I think Jamie’s correct that children’s staff is almost always helpful and pleasant-perhaps because they are dealing with our most vulnerable patrons and they work in youth services because they genuinely love kids. 

Unfortunately not all of our adult patrons are as delightful as our young customers, but they still deserve a stand up welcome, a smile and our best efforts.  When training employees on customer service, I always say treat the customer like you’re a waitperson and want a really big tip.  It’s unfortunate that so many of our desks are so low that we have to sit to access the computer as this often means that we don’t rise to greet customers.  I really believe that height difference creates yet another barrier, and that the desk itself encourages us to hand the patron a slip of paper and send them off into our maze of materials to find things on their own.   Being tied to a desk also means we’re not seeing those puzzled customers wandering the stacks where they often need us most.

So what do you think of big service desks?  What kind of customer service training does your staff get?  Do you have creative people who do enticing displays?  Could shelving and furniture be rearranged or signage added to make your collection more accessible?  Where do you think there’s room for improvement and what have you fixed already?

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3 Responses to Customer Service in Libraries

  1. KathyS says:

    Sit-down desk pluses: good for kids, the elderly and disabled patrons. They can become minuses if staff become chained to them. The only time I *ever* send a patron off on their own into the stacks is if we’re completely swamped and they say they are familiar with the library.

    But I admit to gadget envy in one area: the iPad would be absolutely great for helping patrons in the stacks so I wouldn’t have to drag them back and forth between the desk and the stacks during a more complex reference question.

  2. Pat Hassan says:

    We’re piloting no-desk service at one of the smaller locations of the Johnson County Library (KS). Just started in September. A cart with wireless computer helps to make possible roving service. Visit sometime to see how we’re doing!

  3. jshaffner says:

    Yes, you still need a place where you can work sitting down with a patron one on one and in Youth Services you definitely want to be at eye level. And of course if you can’t have Ipads that connect to the staff side of the catalog, Pacs in the stacks where you can do that are great. We used to use a laptop in the stacks, but that was kind of cumbersome. I love the cart idea-how’s that working out? Do patrons get confused that theirs no desk, or are you all easily spotted?

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