Really? A library card AND a PIN to take out a book?

Editorial

Two things that have drawn my attention.  The first is that a library service is asking people for a PIN as well as a library card in order to issue items on self service machines.  This surprised me so much I had to check (Thanks Mick) I’d read it right because my own authority has had self-service for three years and we don’t ask for PIN and – you know what? – it simply has not been a problem. Think about why for a moment. Like in every non-self service library in the world, the library card is enough. We don’t know everyone personally.  Anyone can come in with a library card, issue an item with a member of staff and go.  Why should the self-service machines be any different? Besides, I bet if I found a card in the street I could go up to a counter in that authority’s branches and ask for “my” PIN and they’d give it to me.  Yeah, you’re going to put off one or two especially unintelligent and lazy thieves but you’re also going to put off a hundred times that number of honest people who can’t remember their number and are too shy/busy/why-should-I to ask. We should be removing barriers, not adding to them. Putting an extra step in the way ain’t going to help your usage, folks.

Secondly, some good people from Spain have sent me a summary of what is going on in public libraries in that country.  It’s very like the UK in that there are deep cuts, less staff and less bookstock.  On the other hand, it’s quite different.  There’s no mention of large scale library closures or volunteers.  Spain has also seen a 20% increase in visits whereas English libraries have seen a decline.  This mirrors an increase in foreign countries I’ve noted elsewhere, notably in the US. Why the difference in the trend? I don’t know because no-one as far as I can see has done any meaningful research on the subject.  I’m just guessing, though, that it has something to do with long-term funding shortages (notable in the buildings themselves) exacerbated by short-term sharp cuts.  Or perhaps it’s because they don’t ask for PINs.

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April Fool’s Day

Editorial

On this April Fool’s Day, we have the government still keen on preventing prisoners receiving books despite the benefits that literacy gives. We also have a council closing down a school library service thus ensuring more people will presumably, eventually, end up in prison.  Finally, we have another council which appears to want to move a town library somewhere out of town to save expense.  What an appropriate date.

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Customer service: welcome the complaints and damn well enjoy yourself

Editorial

I was surprised and delighted to win the ”Customer Service of the Year” award at the local Mayor’s Oscars on Friday. This is the second time I have won the award, with the 2012 one now having to move up to make space in the downstairs toilet.   After the shock wore off, it got me thinking about what makes, in my eyes good and bad customer service and so that’s what this post is going to be about.  Now, there’s a danger that this whole editorial is going to come across as arrogant blather and if it does then move on and ignore it.  However, it’s what I’ve learnt over 20 years and they work for me so they may work for you.  As you will see, if you disagree with any of them, I would positively welcome your complaints ….

  • Never be too busy.  The main point of my job is to serve the customer.  Yes, I manage a couple of libraries but that person is standing in front of you now and needs help.  Giving him or her inferior help so you can get on with the paperwork is going to make it more likely they don’t come back. Which brings me on to..
  • Think long term. That young parent with children asking for a picture book may take up a long time but she’s going to remember that help and come back.  Her kids will too.  You could be saying no to several people’s life use of a library if you say “no” to helping them as well as you can. I notice this having worked at the same place for twenty years … schoolchildren I remember serving are now bringing in their own kids. They wouldn’t have done if I’d have been nasty to them just once.
  • Treat customers like friends and they become friends which means that pretty soon you’re not working but going to see your friends each day which means the job is fun which means you’re good at it.  But beware of not …
  • Treating everyone the same.  It’s tempting to give more time to the nice ones and ones you know, less to the others … but that person who you don’t like serving is as worthy of help as anyone else.  You can quite often make more of a difference to theirs lives too.  Also, people notice if you treat some people better than others.
  • Find ways of ending conversations.  Always be polite but if someone else is waiting then you need your own plans about how to stop the conversation as nicely as you can.  It may be fun but you’ve got work to do. Chatting 15 minutes to a friend is poor customer service to everyone else.
  • Don’t gossip about customers.  Ideally, don’t talk about them at all, off or on desk.  While often a human failing, gossip can lead to disparaging of customers and a decline in service … and if customers hear you do it, they’ll write you off (after all, if you gossip about x then you’re going to gossip about them too – you wouldn’t want that to happen in shops you went to, would you?).
  • Don’t clump.  Humans are social animals and so it’s natural for library staff to chat to eachother in quieter periods.  However, this means that they look busy to customers and also, have their backs to them.  It also means that anyone walking in will think only one thing … that the library is overstaffed. Not a good idea these days.
  • Outreach breeds publicity breeds usage. I’m an extrovert, can’t help it really.  I do pantomimes, I do public speaking, storytimes, the works. The bigger the audience the better. If you speak to 200 people for five minutes and you make an impression then that is as much as a whole day or two at the desk.  The rules are to be relevant and not to be boring.  That’s it. The rest is window dressing.
  • Self service doesn’t mean the end of customer service.  We’ve had self-service machines for two years but that award was still won.  Smile at users as they walk in – every customer should have some sort of acknowledgement.  Measure them up, see if they need help.  You’ve been doing this job for years: you know the signs. Smile and say hello to those who don’t need help, help those who do. Not a challenge.
  • Go the extra mile.  You don’t know the answer so take down details and ask others until you find the answer.  You don’t have the book so phone up a library that does and get them to put it to one side for them.  Buy in the book if it is not in stock.
  • Check check check.  You know the best way to deal with an enquiry: open questions, closed questions, answer then check to see if the answer is correct.  Then check to see if the user needs anything else.  Do that and you’re winning.
  • Complaints are welcome. I love complaints.  They tell me what we’re seen as doing wrong, for free.  Take them as a gift to improve things.  Thank the complainer.  Look into the reason for the complaint and change practice if necessary.  There’s always room for improvement.  We never have all the answers and we’re never always right.  If we think otherwise then we’re wrong.  Similarly, I deal with hundreds of enquries a month but I still remember the ones from years ago that I did not do well and hopefully have learnt from them.
  • Enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying your job, you’re doing it wrong.  Find a way to enjoy it.  Game it if necessary. People notice if you’re not enjoying things.  They even notice, would you believe it, on the phone … and my personal theory is they notice it in email too.  They’ll certainly notice it on Facebook.
  • Be your own manager. Don’t look for your manager or colleagues for praise or for how best to do things.  If they do help then great but they may be too tied up to notice. Look to yourself for how you do things and take the pride with you. You’re the one that has to live with yourself after all.
  • Be proud.  You’ve got the best job in the world, in a place you fought hard to work in, helping others.  People campaign to support you.  You provide a valuable service that people rely on.  So be proud of it and others will be proud of you.

Some of these of course rely on there being sufficient staff and resources but not all.  Anything which I have missed? Anything you disagree with?  I’d welcome your comments.

Please send any comments, thoughts, news or anything else to me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. I’d love (and enjoy) hearing from you.

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Thanks for reading: a couple of offers, queries and the news

Editorial

I’ve had a professional award-winning photographer contact me – he wants to take pictures of public library users for an exhibition.  He’s also interested in photographing campaigners. Initially, he’s most interested in Northwest England but may go national.  Let me know if you think you could help him out.

In addition, I’ve had a member of the public contact me who is concerned about her local town centre library being moved out of town to a place with no public transport.  She wants to know the following:

  • should there be a public consultation?
  • are there any studies/research that shows the impact of when a library is in the heart of the community?
  • are there any studies that show the impact when they are located out of town?

If you are interested or can help in either case, please contact me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.  I am also of course interested in any news stories, comments or thoughts you may have on public libraries.  Thanks for reading.

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Read without prejudice: refurbished libraries, ACE and reader development

Editorial

A fair bit of good news today, with refurbished libraries opening in Carmarthenshire, Hillingdon and Lambeth.  There’s also some good ideas from across the Atlantic and, footballers promoting books.  To cap it all, Arts Council England have come out with a response to the Sieghart Inquiry into public libraries which makes a fair bit of sense in parts.  I also love a great article by Mobeena Khan on the importance of reader development in libraries.

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Ideas

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The most important part of public libraries isn’t the “library”; it’s the “public”

 

Editorial

All 141 of the 151 library authorities that made their figures available to the DCMS now have their comparative data available online. Also, I must write a note on the Cheshire West and Chester cuts covered yesterday.  I am an employee in this council and so, for what I hope is obvious reasons, can only cover the basics, without commenting.

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Ed Vaizey publishes comparative library data. Sort of. Ish.

Editorial

The DCMS has released the latest (2013) reports showing how well each library authority are doing compared to the others.  This was a flagship (in so far as anything libraries-related Ed Vaizey does can be so called) policy last year and it is intended to allow anyone to hold their authority to account.  It is also intended to show who are the most successful councils which the others can then copy.  Sadly, there wasn’t much evidence of this happening last year: or at least it didn’t hit the newspapers. I was looking for mentions and there were barely any.  More could doubtless have been made of the data but the minister, in his wisdom (presumably the DCMS is so cash strapped it needs the money too?) has decided to charge £475 (plus VAT, naturally) to each authority if it wants the fully accessible works.  One could see that as shooting one’s own policy in the foot a little as, on the one hand, Ed is keen to show how open the data is but, on the other hand, £570 is too much for many to actually go the whole hog and actually use it.

This year, the cracks are starting to show even further.  It is entirely voluntary whether library services send in the data that the reports depend on. Unsurprisingly, it looks like 10 out of the 151 have simply refused to do so this year.  It’s impossible to tell why (budget cuts meaning there’s no staff to send in the information? A desire not to be embarrassed? The suspicion no one actually uses it?) but the mere fact that it’s not comprehensive limits its usefulness. Even worse it has, as of checking now, only 78 authorities actually on the list: one hopes the omission of the others are only temporary. In fact, this half-baked launch is inadvertently demonstrating the very weakness of Vaizey’s own approach – making things voluntary means the loss of the comprehensive and efficient and cutting staff to the bone means things don’t go right. How ironic, Mr Vaizey.

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Triumphant opening of Manchester Central Library

Editorial

The opening of Manchester Central on Saturday marks the last of the three Big Shiny New Libraries (the others being Birmingham and Liverpool) started in the dog days of the old government.  The reviews of the new Manchester library (and of the other two) have all been, as far as I can see, positive, with special mention going to the mixture of the very new and the old.  This is a combination that also worked very successfully in Liverpool but, in my opinion anyway, a lot less so in Birmingham where the Shakespeare room for some reason was shoehorned on to the roof. The big points emerging from Manchester are the increase in the stock on public view, the large number of computers, the archives on display and the beautiful refurbishment of the old sections, notably the central dome.  Although it cost £50 million, people seem to think it’s worth the money. I can’t wait to go.

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Watch this video and feel your inner librarian shout YES

Editorial

This is a great video you need to watch.  Have a listen and think about the differences between the can-do attitude of this librarian and how we should be the same.  This, let’s not beat about the bush, is an utterly fantastic talk that shows how important and adventurous libraries should be.

What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh – Friends of the Aurora Public Library.

Highlights include a child’s puppet show (with an important point at the end), the need to say yes, and (honestly) 300 goats. The difference between timorous rules-bound UK public libraries and the well-funded open-minded US model is what strikes me as well.  This library includes a puppet stage, media room and a 3D printer.  Does any library authority in the UK have all three? I doubt it.

“You can learn anything if you make it playful”

“Would you risk jail time to defend your favourite book?”

“We are the cornerstones of democracy. Everyone has a seat at our table, whether you’re a millionaire of if you’re homeless”

Ideas

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Library spending on the four parts of the UK compared

Editorial

A full judicial review to the deep cuts on Lincolnshire’s library service have been allowed by the High Court on all four grounds.  This will be a historic case as it will be the first to challenge on the “comprehensive and efficient” terminology of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  All other challenges have been on other grounds, notably the Equalities Act.

Wales has become the first constituent part of the United Kingdom to start automatic library membership in schools.  Every primary schoolchild will be allowed to borrow two books “straight away”, with full lending privileges given when proof of address has been given. Following on my post yesterday, lauding the Welsh for actually having things like standards and a national marketing strategy, Librariesmatter has kindly supplied me with the figures for the different nations. Let’s have a look …

Based on Cipfa 2012/13. Per 1000 head per population.
Based on Cipfa 2012/13. Per 1000 head per population. 

So Wales and Scotland have more visitors per 1000 population (and Wales wins out on book issues too) than England but they spend more money to do it.

Cipfa nations graph

England spends considerably less than the other nations on libraries per 1000 population. A lot less compared to Scotland.  Presumably the more widely spread out population has something to do with that.

England comes out on top on average though.

Which means English cost per issue and visit is the lowest, despite having less visitors and issues than Wales.

Changes

On the radar

  • Bromley - “Drastic cuts planned” in opening hours and staffing.

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