A few weeks ago I had the chance to participate in a small tech summit, at which a variety of types of librarians discussed different ways technology is being used in libraries, library schools, and actually, in life.  As the Swiss Army Librarian noted in his post, at the event we didn’t just talk about technology. The group also talked about a variety of library topics, including customer service and how librarians are using the phrase customer service as a way to justify practices that aren’t actually very customer friendly at all. 

What I’ve noticed recently, as I visit libraries and talk to librarians, is that it’s very easy to justify library policies, services, procedures, etc.  within the context of customer service.  For example, I’ve had librarians say to me:

  • We think shelving material for teens this way is good customer service because then it’s easier for us to find “stuff” when a teen is in a hurry.  Really? So, if the librarian can find the items on the shelf, but it’s basically impossible for a teen to get to the resources without asking for help that’s customer service?
  • Teens don’t want us within their technology spaces so it’s better customer service to not implement technology services or projects because that’s not what teens actually want.  Really? What about talking to the teens about how they are using technology and brainstorming with them ways in which the library might use new, emerging, and popular technologies? Wouldn’t that be serving the teen customer effectively?
  • Technology changes so fast that it’s better not to try new things unless we know it’s something that will stick and be used for a long time. That’s better teen customer service because that way we aren’t always changing what’s available. It’s good to be consistent.  Really? So, if the library doesn’t implement the tools and technologies that teens want and do use that’s good customer service?

It’s easy to rationalize what goes on in libraries as good customer service. However, what really seems to be going on, at least in some instances, is that customer service is about librarian comfort levels and then justifying those comfort levels by calling it good customer service.  Of course that’s not the right way to go about things. So, how do we make change in order to provide true customer service to teens?

A good place to start is to take a serious look at each of the policies and procedures you have for teen services and think about whether or not those policies and procedures support customer service. Or, do you see that they really are all about librarian comfort and convenience?

If you discover that there are some things setup that are customer service in name only, think about what it would take to change things. Would it require training for staff? Would it require education of administration? Think about how teens can be involved in making customer service change.

Don’t let yourself fall into the customer service rationalization trap.  Give your library a teen customer service check-up and then take steps to rectify whatever needs rectifying.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President and the Youth and Family Learning Manager at the Seattle Public Library.

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