Commit, Already

I attended a vendor presentation last week, and one of the reps said something very interesting about getting a library to 100% self-check. Here’s what he said:

“100% self-check is really easy to get to. You just eliminate any other way. It’s not rocket science.”

For self check and libraries, I know of more than one library “working towards” 90% self check, or they have a goal of a certain percentage. Or they just continue to offer both, with no real goal to stop either of them.

Some questions for you, if you’re in this boat – how much do you want to reach that goal? Is it really a goal? If so, do you know WHY it’s a goal? Is it what your customers want, or does it work better for the organization (not necessarily a bad thing). Is something holding you back? And if so … why?

Obviously, this works with more than just self checkout!

Are you trying to make a change, but you still really have the old way AND the new way still fully functioning? Maybe it’s time to set a deadline for the old process to go away. Maybe you need to rethink the project, ask customers about it, or ask staff how to improve it.

Maybe you simply need to commit, and take that next step.

Pic by Richard Masoner

  • griffey

    I always call this “burning the boats”. If you get somewhere, and you want to make sure people can’t go back from where they came, you burn the boats. :-)

  • ahniwa

    Mixing metaphors a bit, but keep in mind that burning bridges behind you is often considered a bad move.

  • davidleeking

    Burning bridges and burning boats is a bit different. Burning your boats refers back to (I think) the vikings – they’d arrive at a place they wanted to invade, then burn their boats, so they had to stay and conquer. It’s another way of saying fully committed.

  • davidleeking

    Nice – love the metaphor!

  • ahniwa

    I do get that, but in both cases you are destroying the option to return to where you’ve been. Burning their boats worked great when the vikings did conquer, but on those occasions when they got beat down, they probably wished they still had an escape route.

    To get away from the weird metaphors, I think that libraries are in a transitional space between new and old, and that making the jump to 100% new (on any issue) is probably not the best move.

    I think the questions you ask here are good ones:

    “… how much do you want to reach that goal? Is it really a goal? If so, do you know WHY it’s a goal? Is it what your customers want, or does it work better for the organization (not necessarily a bad thing). Is something holding you back? And if so … why?”

  • davidleeking

    I do like the weird metaphors! But yeah, I agree with you (and with me, I guess) – the best idea is to PLAN. Figure out what it is your organization needs to do, for your customers, and then figure out how you will get there. You’re definitely right – HUGE transitions are still going on in our library world! We need to make those changes, but we also need to help steer our people – our staff – through those transitions.

    Easy to say, hard to do.

  • Andrea Beth

    I was very in favor of self checkouts until I attended the Widen the Lens Conference ( and a session led by Heinen’s President, Jeff Heinen ( The best get feedback from your patrons/users/customers is at checkout (whether it be books or bread). You can have all the fancy gadgets in the world but if you do not have a touch point to get a regular feel of how you are doing in the eyes of your users. In a library the circulation desk is it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. You also have to look at the demographic you serve. 29.7% of the households in my county have people over the age of 65. Not to say that they don’t love their electronics, because a good number do. But that almost 30% (and growing) holds the majority of the wealth and influence in our community. You want to make them unhappy the next time you need to pass a levy?

    Other things that play into this are: A new circulation system that is not staff or user friendly (it’s a huge 86+ library consortium and even the company has apologized for the problems, going on 8 months now). Privacy (We get in 150+ items a day for people. Do you really want to spend that much staff time wrapping and labeling them and hoping no one walks off with them. You would need someone to guard them.) And many, many more but it basically boils down to what is the best way to satisfy the patron? Right now, keeping checkouts at the circulation desk is the best way.

  • Ian Anstice

    We have 90% self service but I think it will be very difficult to get much higher. The reason are th errors and weaknesses in the self service function, partly caused by human error (garbage in garbage out) and partly by flaws in the tech.

    When th tech gets better – which may be with the next gen, a year or three ahead then yes.

  • Lori Reed

    I would definitely question why before making this a goal for self check out. I have heard from too many patrons who value and need the one on one interaction. Then there is my new library. I have to go to the desk to pay fines. Then I have to walk back to the middle of the library to go to self check out. Then go back past the circ desk to exit the library. To me this is poor customer service. The person at the desk should offer to check out items for anyone paying fines rather than make people loop around the building multiple times. Self check out can be done right if all the staff in the building make an effort to smile, greet people, and offer to help. There are patrons who love self checkout and there are those who don’t. We need options for both and not arbitrary goals.