Friday, September 22, 2006

Customer service conundrum

Today I faced one of those customer service dilemmas which I really hate - do I help someone find a book that isn't where it's supposed to be, even though it's one minute to closing, or do I gently remind him the library is closing in one minute, and could he come back in the morning and we'd find it for him?

On one hand, going the extra mile for the patron* always makes us look good, and if the patron really needs the item, gives them a feeling of gratitude towards us. They might tell the next person they speak to, be it a family member, friend or classmate, how great it was that the librarian found that book on birding which the catalogue said was in but wasn't where it should be.

The other day I helped an elderly woman track down an issue of the French version of Reader's Digest she was looking for because there was an article she wanted for her daughter, despite the fact I was on my way to the server room to fix a problem that was occurring in the system. When we discovered it had been checked out, I took her to the circulation desk, explained to the librarian who was there what we needed (to put a PIN on her card, and then reserve the issue), and then continued on to fix the problem. The woman told the librarians at the desk how helpful I'd been, and was grateful for all our assistance. That's what we do - we help people, and we love doing it, damnit!

But on the other hand, we're only human. I wasn't feeling the greatest - there's a cold/flu going around the staff, and it isn't even officially flu season yet. We were short staffed today, so I'd spent a lot of time helping out at the circ desk and not getting paperwork done. I work tomorrow, I'll be the only manager in, and there's serious potential for all three departments to be short staffed. Plus, there's a glitch in the system that's preventing me from uploading MARC records for a bunch of new materials, but I don't know where or how to solve it. Long story short, I was a little stressed, tired, distracted, and just wanted to shoo him out.**

In the end, I had to go with the shooing, but I did promise to have a look for it in the morning, and explained how he could go online and reserve the material so that when it did turn up, we'd give him a call. What would you have done?

*That's a weird term for me - patron. As in, a library patron, or someone who patronizes a library. In library school, there were many discussions about what you call someone who goes to the library: a patron or a user?

For the last few years, I've used the term "library user" to describe someone who comes to the library, checks out material, and participates in programming. Because that's what they do - they use the library. A patron is someone who generally supports or favours something, like an arts program or even a library, but it doesn't mean they necessarily
use the library.

It doesn't mean that "library users" aren't also patrons of the library, and "patrons of the library" can also be library users, it's just that, to me, they have different connotations. Library user sounds like a more neutral term than patron (which sounds a bit snooty in my head), but to some, library user sounds cold and statistical and patron is a friendlier term. However, since everyone at my new library uses the term "patron" to describe the people who are in the building and aren't staff, I've also started using the term.

**Add to that the fact I'd had to run around looking for him - twice - because he'd left stuff in my department, and then seemed to have very little idea what it was he was looking for.