Over the past few weeks within the Purple Library series there have been reasons why we should change and bad habits that lead to being unremarkable. Today the focus is on a niche evolving libraries tends to overlook- patrons that fear change.
It seems that libraries too often benchmark themselves against large businesses such as Barnes and Nobel or Amazon. We see an amazing website or advanced check-out system and want to do the same. All without realizing the advantages we currently have over a corporate business model. There are two obvious strengths, among others, a library has:
- The Power of Free
The power of free is huge. Think of all your favorite Web 2.0 services and calculate how much you spend for it each month. I’m guessing the dollar amount is zilch. Would you use that service if they charged? Would patrons still come to your library if you charged for every service (think about that)?
- The Personal Factor
The library is building links to your community with every patron served. We all know “the regulars” and provide top quality, one-on-one services to suit individual needs.
It is the personal factor that should be looked at the most when understanding patrons that are afraid to change. This idea is exemplified in the essay, Don’t Be like Pete, on page 60 of “The Big Moo” by the Group of 33, edited by Seth Godin. The following is a quick synopsis:
Pete is a print shop owner who has been doing business the same way for 52 years. Pete is known for friendly greetings, personable service, and getting the job done. In the last two years Pete has decided to expand in order to compete with Kinko’s. Pete invests big bucks into the company’s website and automation. Now, when customers ask for something Pete sends them to the website instead, telling them they can do it all on-line. “Just like Kinko’s!” Pete tells the customers. Now Pete’s customers are unhappy because they miss the personal service Pete had provided in the past.
Pete’s business sounds a lot like libraries over the past ten years. Every time something is automated or digitized is it brining us closer to our patrons? For patrons that enjoy a changing environment and working with technology, I’d argue yes. But for the niche afraid of change it is a much different story. Libraries should have pride in having amazing web services, but must offer the same services in-house. In this way we are still able to keep it personal.
Why not allow patrons to place holds at the front desk OR online? Why not disable the automated phone service that notifies patrons a book is in, for a while, and give them an actual human voice? Why not hand out cookies at the reference desk for no reason? Also, the best way to find out what changes your patrons disagree with is to ask. If they are afraid of technology, offer a technology crash course. If they don’t like the way a new system is setup, talk to them about the advantages.
My favorite suggestion in the Don’t Be like Pete essay, is to pick out your top three patrons and give them a call. Ask them what the library is doing right, wrong, how the library can improve and what services to offer in the future. Your users are the best advisors!
When others ask why I enjoy working at libraries, I tell them “I feel like a pillar of the community.” A pillar has two main functions- it connects and supports. These traits go hand-in-hand. Without connecting to the community you cannot support it, nor will the community support the library in return.
As libraries evolve and become more efficient we must, also, remember to preserve the identity of the library. A library is (or should be) recognized for being a reliable institution that serves and connects with its community, and this should never be jeopardized in the name of making things easier for the library.
“The Big Moo” reading assignment: Don’t Be like Pete, found on page 60.
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