I am the customer again. When you work in a public library, whether it’s in the town where you reside or not, you tend to be self serving. Even when I did not live in the same town as the public library where I worked, I exclusively used my work library. I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve never even been to the Asbury Park library and I lived there for two years.
I work in an academic library now and let’s face it, most of the fun books are in public libraries. So, once again I’m the patron of a public library system. This time, it is the Brooklyn Public library’s job to meet my library needs. I live closest to the Bedford branch of the BPL. I’ve been there three times. Let’s just say, I’m not impressed.
I’m a librarian, like many of you that read this blog, so, I’m mostly self sufficient in public libraries. I rarely ask “stupid” questions or do annoying things like come 5 minutes before closing and want to apply for a library card. I really just ask to be treated kindly, for the folks helping me to be informed or be willing to find out the answer if they don’t know it and for the systems to be semi-efficient.
Over the next year, I might be using Brooklyn Public Library to illustrate a point. It’s not that I’m picking on them; they just happen to be the ones who are serving me under my particular microscope.
So. Let’s start with the library card application process.
I was not greeted. The clerk took my credentials (license and proof of address) without saying anything at all. I suppose had I not set them on the counter she would have asked for them. She made some sort of mistake on my card and the she flagged me down and had me come back to the counter to fix it. People make mistakes, so no big deal. I had to ask, “Am I done?” because she gave me no indication that our interaction was over. She didn’t tell me the circulation period. She didn’t tell me anything about the library, nor give me any brochures that would tell me about basic policies, etc. In fact, she barely said a word to me, though she did answer my questions.
If the Brooklyn Public Library had competitors, I would definitely try one after that initial experience. You go to one coffee shop and are treated indifferently; you feel no loyalty and might try a different one. Libraries don’t have that sort of competition; but, that doesn’t mean they get to forget that they are providing a service and should be trying to deliver it with some excellence. In this crazy time for public libraries, they need all the vocal supporters they can get.
I’m there to get a library card! A new user! This is the BPL’s opportunity to welcome me, explain a few policies like fines, hours, circulation periods. Offer me help if I need it. It is the opportunity to set the tone for our relationship and for them to win some new rabidly loyal customers. They kind of blew it. Not that I won’t be an advocate for my local library, I will; but, it’s kind of….despite my personal experience, I see your value.
I, obviously, will be going back to my little branch again and again to pick up holds or browse their collection and I’ll head out to the Central branch too. Perhaps becoming a regular will warm things up over there. I’ll keep you posted.
I see this as an opportunity to remind myself of the customer perspective. It’s a great exercise and the first lesson is greet all customers, old and new, warmly and make sure they feel welcome.