A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

January/February 2015Volume 54, No. 1

Feature Article

Customers or Patrons? How You Look at Your Library’s Users Affects Customer Service

An informal observation of library websites and policies shows that even leading public libraries are evenly split between the use of customer and patron in their formal taxonomy. The traditional term patron is used by New York Public Library (NYPL), Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library, Seattle Public Library, and Multnomah County (OR) Library. The terms customer and user can be found in the policies of Denver Public Library, Topeka Shawnee (KS) County Library, Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library, King County (WA) Library, and Anythink Libraries in Colorado.

Feature Article

Low-Hanging Fruit: Learning How to Improve Customer Service, Staff Communication, and Job Satisfaction with Process Improvement

Process improvement has become an axiom in the business world recently. Discussions of process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma and Lean have become commonplace in both business and public service board rooms. In 2014, the Pierce County (WA) Library System (PCLS) began conducting something of an experiment, working to discover if it is possible for a midsize public library without the resources of General Electric or Toyota to implement process improvement techniques in a real-world environment. We are, at present, about halfway through the work of our first process improvement team, but we’ve already begun to see exciting results.

PL Magazine Column

“Claims Returned” and Other Customer Service “Tails”

Sometimes our library jargon sets us up for negative customer-service experiences. How many of us have a “claims returned” status in our automation systems or even a “claims returned” form that we have customers sign? I challenge anyone to use the verb form “claims” with a positive connotation. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer who can remember plain as day returning five items to the library only to be told that one was not. In the customer’s mind the item has been “lost” or is “missing” from the library. In our minds it has become lodged between the front passenger side door and seat when the customer sped too fast around a corner. Yet in response we invoke the “claims returned” process. I can see the cartoon now, “this customer ‘claims’ to have returned this book and discovered a cure for the common cold.” No wonder we set our staff and customers up for an unpleasant confrontation. Although statistically likely, why have we fallen into a “guilty until proven innocent” approach with our customers? In my rethinking of my library’s policies this is one whose days I believe are numbered. We still need a procedure, of course, but framing it as an unfortunate circumstance and sending out a joint search team comprising staff and customer without pointing fingers seems like a much more positive and productive approach.

PL Magazine Column

A Guide to Wiping the Egg Off Your Face

Customer service is an ongoing balance between quantitative and qualitative elements. On one hand, our profession’s “killer app” is its ability to identify an individual’s needs through a combination of probing questions and intuition, done with courtesy and without judgment. On the other hand, the steady flow of patrons and the need to keep statistics counts up means that many aspects of the user interaction have to stay uniform. It’s this balance between uniformity and personalization that makes every act of customer service something new. Throughout the days, weeks, and years of a library’s life, each of these transactions start to run together.

Feature Article

Get to Yes: Branding Public Library Customer Service

The Jacksonville (FL) Public Library (JPL) is comprised of a main library and twenty branches. In FY2014, the library system had a collection size of 2,413,255 materials that were checked out more than 7 million times by more than 3.9 million visitors.1 Get to Yes (GTY) is JPL’s customer-service program. It is designed to address […]

New Product News January/February 2015

EyePlay Long Beach (CA) Public Library has alerted us to a new product for libraries, EyePlay, which parents may have seen in Target, Burger King, Ikea, or some other commercial venue. EyePlay is an interactive media display that can be projected on a floor or wall. EyePlay uses MotionAware technology, which reacts when human movement […]