A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Miracle on 34th Street: Library Edition

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on December 19, 2013

You know the scene in the movie Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle tells the little boy he’ll get the fire engine for Christmas? The one that his mom has been unable to find in any store?

“Don’t you understand English?” she snarls at Kris. “I tell ya, Macy’s ain’t got any. Nobody’s got any. I been all over. My feet are killing me. A fine thing, promisin’ the kid!

“Now you don’t think I’d say that unless I’m sure, do you?” Kris replies. “You can get those fire engines at Schoenfeld’s on Lexington Avenue. Only $8.50. A wonderful bargain.”

”Schoenfelds? I don’t get it,” she says in confusion.

“Oh, I keep track of the toy market pretty closely. Does that surprise you so?” says Kris.

“Surprise me? Macy’s sending people to other stores. You kidding me?”

“Well, the only important thing is keeping the children happy,” says Kris. “Whether Macy or somebody else sells the toy doesn’t make any difference. Don’t you feel that way?”

“Oh yeah, sure,” she says, “but I didn’t know Macy’s did.”

“As long as I’m here they do.”[1]

How does this scene relate to libraries, you ask? Is your library filled with Kris Kringle-ish reference staff? Are they doing everything they can to help their patrons, or are they only using the resources of their own library or brain and quickly pushing the patron out the door? To be like Kris Kringle, keep the following ideas in mind.

Ask the colleague seated next to you for help. It’s an amazingly sad thing to say, but we have been at libraries where colleagues at the same desk did not ask each other for help or advice when completing a more challenging reference question for a patron. Remember “phone a friend” from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? What keeps you from asking a colleague who is off desk for advice or suggestions of how to search when you are stuck? And this doesn’t even include the idea that sometimes it’s just nicer to have someone assist you in helping a patron so you can relax and think clearly.

Support your colleagues at other libraries. Even if you are sending a patron to a library you are not affiliated with at all, you are showing both the patron and your colleagues at another library that you respect them and the service they provide. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing the strengths and accomplishments of colleagues. And perhaps another time, they will do the same thing for you. However, more often than not, it appears that pride keeps a librarian from giving patrons the best service available. A strong information professional shows how strong his or her skills are by getting the patrons to the best information not the “close is good enough” information.

Know your library collection’s strengths and weaknesses. If you are primarily a popular materials collection, where is the closest library with a really strong reference collection? Is it at a library in another town? Is it at the main branch of your system? Is it at a local community college or a nearby university? If you are a more scholarly library, do you know what nearby library a patron would be most likely to get a copy of the newest David Baldacci book to check out? Patrons don’t always know or care about how libraries are or are not interconnected. They want their question answered or need met.

Aim to create a lifetime patron. This time your library may not have what a patron needed, but you made sure you helped them by sending them to another library you knew had exactly what he or she needed. Retailers know that people tell twice as many people about bad experiences than good. The patron achieved his or her goal and was happy! That person you helped leaves with a good impression of the library and hopefully will return for assistance another time.

As you watch Miracle on 34th Street this holiday season, think about Kris Kringle’s customer service ethos.  He went to great lengths to ensure customer satisfaction. In libraries, we want our patrons to be happy whether they’re five, ninety-five, or somewhere in between. Make sure to give them the best customer service possible!

1. A transcript of this scene was found at (accessed 12/19/2013)  http://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/.