As a librarian who interacts daily with other library staff, it’s easy to forget how our users may view the library. Our patrons may not know where to locate items in our collection or how many items to check out. They’re unsure if they can reserve items or rooms, or the difference between the reference and circulation desks. We have a unique lingo that can be confusing to anyone not living in the same world.
We all need to occasionally view the library with a set of fresh eyes, and I have a few suggestions on how to help patrons navigate your library space:
1) Walk through the library as a visitor.
Use the front entrance and take note of signs posted around the building. Is it obvious where to find the catalogue computer and how to access the Internet? Where are the restrooms? Who could you ask for help finding an item? Where are the library policies listed?
Not knowing where to find and locate answers can be overwhelming to first time visitors. Some people are more prone to ask for help than others. You may be encountering frustrated patrons who ask you for help after they have wasted time looking for items on their own, or leave discouraged without asking anyone.
2) Divide and conquer.
Instead of all staff trying to pay attention to all details everywhere, each employee focuses on the details in a vicinity.
It’s important for the safety of your staff and patrons that you are always aware of what is happening in your library. Assign people to walk through particular sections once or twice a day. This shouldn’t add a huge amount of time or responsibility to their schedule. It can be as simple as checking that there are no big problems and everything is in order, then they can continue on their way.
3) Ask for feedback.
Don’t wait for someone to fill out a comment card, because cards are usually completed when an uncommon positive or negative event occurs. Hold an open house one evening and prop up large signs that promote programs you have held or regularly book. Place a few tables around the room with suggestion forms and have your staff engage in conversation with attendees. As your staff talks and hears about their experience, encourage them to write down notes on suggestion forms, too. An important aspect of an open house is inviting people who are not regulars. Meet with business owners in your community to promote the event, talk to your partner’s coworkers, or pass out flyers at a nearby coffee shop or school.
4) Go beyond what was asked.
No one tells their friends and family about experiences that met the minimum of what they needed.
Florida’s virtual reference service, Ask a Librarian, has a logo that quickly became one of my favorite slogans: “We are librarians. And we know the answer to questions you didn’t even know to ask.” A new patron knows only what they have been told about library policy and usage. You know the rules on how many books and DVDs patrons can check out at once, but what’s known to you may not be known to them. A great customer service experience goes above what was asked to deliver additional information.
Remind yourself and your library staff that it is alright to say: “I don’t know, but let me find out” when you are faced with a question you don’t know how to answer. Write down those questions and share them with your staff. Sometimes a patron will notice something that was right in front of you.
What other ideas have you found to be effective in maintaining an outsider’s perspective for your library?