Our library’s Annual Report was due yesterday afternoon, and I’ve gotta say, I’m very interested in one particular measure my supervisor included this year. She tracked the number of classes taught, students taught, and individual consultations held by each librarian for the last five years. Then she averaged the total by the number of librarians employed each year to show that adding staff directly impacted the services we provide.
For the first two years there were “only” five librarians and these librarians conducted quite a few individual consultations and classes per year, and they reached a lot of students. For the next two years there were six librarians, and each of these librarians conducted a few more consultations and classes per year, and they reached a few more students. Each librarian was, on average, more busy than the average librarian in the first two year. Last year, though, there were eight librarians, and each of us conducted LOTS of consultations that year and reached a LOT more students even though we taught only a few more classes than in previous years. Each “average” librarian was significantly more busy than the average librarian in any of the previous years. The graph doesn’t just slant up, it curves up quite steeply.
I think a few things have contributed to this change. Not only has our emphasis on transforming from a “faceless” institution to a “faced” institution begun to pay dividends, but we’ve begun to be perceived as accessible by the students, and we’ve begun to develop more individualized relationships with our faculty (both in pedagogical contexts and in campus social contexts). Best of all, even though we’re not faculty, we’re no longer seen as outsiders in faculty reading groups or campus committees. (Of course, I keep saying “we” but since I only joined this staff last year I can really only claim credit for riding the tidal wave. My co-workers are AWESOME.)
Not that we’re absolutely loved or completely trusted or anything. There’s a long way yet to go. But we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labors, and I am SO excited to be here to watch this tipping point in action.
And what’s in store this year? Well, I can’t speak for the rest of my co-workers (though I know they’re all teaching classes and holding consultations at a breathtaking rate). But even though I teach fewer classes and provide fewer consultations than most of my co-workers, I’ve already had more consultations this October than I had last October (and I’ve only gotten through one week of this October). This year we’re hearing a lot more students who say their professors recommended they come talk to us. And today I had my first instance of a student telling me, “I have a friend in a different major, and she keeps saying what a help her librarian is and asking me if I have a librarian. She keeps saying I should come see you.” Cool! I think our service is really taking hold.
One of the greatest things about working where I do is the way I get to work with people from our IT department. Or rather, it’s the way that the idea of working with the IT department isn’t a big deal. I absolutely take it for granted that we have a combined service point (which we’ve named Research/IT… yeah, “research it”…) instead of a reference desk. I think nothing of calling down to Matt on the web team if I need something from our content management system that either isn’t there yet, or that is there but I can’t figure out. In any given week, it’s entirely possible that I’ll spend more time working on projects with IT people than I will with people from other departments in the library.
Well, today we had a half-day retreat for all library staff, all IT staff, the archivist, and the slide librarian. The first hour was filled with three- to five-minute descriptions of projects we’ve done in the last year that were collaborative across our department. May I say “Wow”? We’ve done everything from design and implement a new icon set for the different material types in our catalog, to planning for a new concept of data services that will provide much needed support for all the classes that need to find, manipulate, and analyze data sets.
There’s still room for improvement, but if there weren’t life would be boring. So for the next part of the retreat we broke into groups to talk about the future. What do we want to improve? Well it’s no surprise that we want to have a better handle on who knows what so that we can tap expertise whenever possible. We also want to think of ways to improve communication so that we aren’t so dependent on vast quantities email. We’d also like to develop of system of periodic short (half-hour or 45-minute) sessions of presentations and/or discussions focused on what we do, what we think about, projects we’re working on together, projects we’re working on separately, and anything else of interest. Oh, and they would be open to the entire campus. The faculty have this in place already via our amazing Learning and Teaching Center, but we’d like periodic sessions produced by us as well.
I’m so pumped!
Note: If the title sounds an awful lot like titles of much more thoughtful and useful articles you’ve read in the last couple of days, it is purely … um … thievery. But the title fits.
I went to my local public library this week, as I do quite often. It’s a small library, but they have a decent collection of books and quite a good collection of videos, dvds, and audio books (good for those long drives to other towns, through corn fields, which still mess with this city girl’s head). I had just gotten back from the wedding and family reunion week, and I knew I had a book on tape checked out (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, part 2 of 3), but I thought it was due the next week. It wasn’t. It was already three days overdue.
“Did you bring back “Atlas Shrugged” today?” asked the circulation lady.
“No,” I replied, still wondering why she’d want me to bring back a book that was due next week.
“Oh, because its a little overdue, but let me just renew it for you,” the circulation lady say, without any hesitation at all.
Just like that, she renewed my overdue book. It made my day. Kudos to the Northfield Public Library for putting customer service over ILS messages. (And btw, she did the same thing for the three overdue videos of the family in front of me.)
While we’re on the topic of customer service, take a look at this post from Library Garden:
Library Garden: On underwear, beanies, and other fashion statements…
I’ve seen some pretty effective ways to reduce younger clientele (such as when the local coffee shop I worked at during graduate school closed its doors at the late, late hour of 7:00 every night, 3:00 on weekends… SO stupid), but this is one of the most creative ways I’ve come across recently.
Last Friday, my best friend couldn’t get her car to run. We both worked for a couple of hours calling, searching the web while waiting on hold, talking to service stations, and searching the web some more to find a place that could service her little asian car, and then to find a tow service that wouldn’t cost her the equivalent of a week’s salary. Finally, she headed out to her car to wait for the towing service while I started the hunt-and-call process for a rental car so that she could get to work (the place that could fix her car didn’t do the loaner thing). Well, we found a place that not only didn’t break the bank, but also picked up their customers and dropped them off for free! What a deal!
But so far, that wasn’t customer service; it was just good business. The customer service comes in later, after her car is fixed and she’s trying to figure out how to time things so that she can drive her rental to the rental company (35 miles south), get a ride back home, take a cab to the service station (3 miles south of home), and then drive to work (50 miles north) all between the time the rental place opens (8:00) and the time she has to be at work (9:00). But when she called the rental place to ask when they opened, the guy on the other end did just what we’re taught to do in a reference interview. He recognized this as a “compromised” information need, and went questing for the real need. And when he found out that she had this time crunch, he offered to have her just drive the rental to the service station and give him a call. He’d pick up the rental from the service station… no extra charge. Not only did this completely make my friend’s day, but it also ensured that she and everyone she knows has a warm and fuzzy feeling for rental places in general and this company in particular.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could figure out how to make this happen in the library world? I’ve been struck by a few posts recently in the biblioblogosphere that have dealt with this issue of customer service, especially this post from Library Garden about Nordstrom’s culture of serving the customer without being tied to rules and regulations. (It was with this in mind that I [gasp] allowed a student to check out a reference book last week.)
Why can’t we offer to photocopy articles and run them to our “customers” when they call to see if we subscribe the journal housing a particular article? For that matter, we could even scan and email articles that aren’t available online.