Personal Connections to Your Public
Every contact with the public is an opportunity for either making positive or negative connections. Last Sunday I visited the regional public library as it is the only library on the north side open on Sunday. The experience was not positive. It was as if they staff had no training in public relations. They should read my blog entry from September 1, 2010 “Staying connected to your public.”
Point number 14 in that article stated “Think positively and put on a happy face. View it as your job to look happy. Stuff happens that is beyond your control. In the face of a challenge remain clam and in control. Remember we are in the business of doing good things and serving the public.”
Previous to my visit I checked the online catalog for books on my subject, Ubuntu Linux. The libraries I work in didn’t have anything on the topic, but this public library had several books. The libraries where I work had none. The catalog indicated the books were not checked out. I looked on the shelf; my son looked at the shelf. None of the books were there. Reference librarians do not leave their desks. They are also not very approachable.
I decided to check if the library owned a particular video. The computer available to search the catalog near the video collection had a wireless connection. The connection was intermittent, making a search hard to do. The computer searched for a connection. I went to search for another computer. A clerk in a very unfriendly voice said, “That computer is only for searching the catalog.” I answered “I was trying to search the catalog.” She answered, “No, you were doing something funny.” I identified myself as a librarian who knew a lot about computers and libraries. I offered to explain what was going on with the computer. She refused to listen.
This is my site report.
1. Friendliness and helpfulness – Needs improvement. Staff needs better training.
2. Ease of finding materials – Needs improvement.
3. Books in the collection – Fine for my son who checked out 10 books, terrible for me. My son is less particular than I am. He didn’t have a particular book or subject in mind.
I work as a reference librarian. I do not stay at my desk. I offer help before students ask. I walk around and if I see someone perplexed I offer help. I greet people with, “May I help you?” One should investigate before accusing anyone. I have told people not to eat dinner in the library and not to talk loudly. I do not yell at people; very quietly I tell people what they need to know. Not everyone is aware that their behavior is bothering another user. No one has ever been belligerent after a quiet reminder. We try not to argue with patron. This is the same kind of behavior we expect in a retail environment.
The patron will remember positive connections, but will tell the story of negative impressions to many people. Because the negative will get wider attention, we must do our best to put on a smile and give positive impressions at all times.
Give your patrons something to take away. Yesterday I worked on a business card that has instructions for using the library remotely and included the library phone number. I use the cards as giveaways when I do a class orientation to the library. Students love the cards. Some libraries may want to giveaway pencils, pens, book marks, or other stuff with the library name. You want the patrons to think of the library as “their” library.
We will also be updating our library brochures and web pages. I want to promote the idea of partnership with the students and faculty. Jonathan Sacks in his book, The Home We Build Together (Continuum US, 2007) talks about how it is better to work together side-by-side than talk face-to-face. What he means is that I can talk to faculty and students, but the ideas may not sink in. I need to act as a partner with a common goal. If the goal is finding information for a paper, work with the student to find the answers; don’t tell them all the answers.
It is also important for a librarian to be multilingual. That does not mean learn Spanish or French. It means learn the professional and technical languages of the people who use the library. Learn their languages and how to translate them into the language of the layperson. The languages of professionals, such as the health and legal fields, need to be precise. Our first language needs to be Standard English (or the language of our country) and our second language is the language of our group. The group may be an ethnic, professional, or cultural group. These languages may even share part of a common vocabulary, but when used within a group the meanings change.