Use the Front Door

A front door in Delft

If your library’s like mine, you have staff-only ways to access library stuff … things like employee parking, a staff-only entrance, a back-end way to access the library catalog, etc. Whenever I put a book on hold, I get it delivered via inter-office mail.

I never have to use the library like a patron if I don’t want to!

My question – is this a good thing?

Try using your library like a patron. Is it easy or hard? Is there something that frustrates you about the whole process? It’s probably doing the same thing to your patrons.

Here’s a thought – maybe we should create a “Work Like a Patron” week, where we only use the library like our customers do – use your library’s wifi (bonus points for using a Public PC), search using the patron version of your catalog, maybe even sit at those lovely desks in the library. Or hang out in a cafe, accessing all work- and library-related stuff from outside of the building. Use the front door, and see the library through your patrons’ eyes.

This works for the IT department, too. Use library employee tools like … library employees, rather than like IT dudes and dudettes. Is it hard? If so … it’s probably hard for the rest of the library, too. Make it work for everyone!

If it works wonderfully, great! If not, maybe you have some things to improve.

New Presentation: Creating Community Experience Using Mostly Free Stuff and Staff

Here’s the Slideshare version of a presentation I did for Proquest at the ALA MidWinter 2011 meeting. It was a fun presentation to do – I was experimenting with creating recurring themes throughout the presentation, and working on my transitions.

I think it worked well. Enjoy!

Stalking – is it really a huge problem for libraries?

I should state right up front that I know next to nothing about stalking or stalkers – never had it happen to me, never really thought much about it. But I said I’d write about it, so I am.

And I do know this: some librarians are really, really worried that putting themselves “out there” by listing their full names and sharing a picture of themselves on a library website, or even by including their full name on a name badge, will somehow point them out as victims-in-waiting. You told me so.

Here’s an example of that worry, from Nathan, who left a comment on my post about anonymity. Nathan says: “I won’t be pushing for them to have last names, because I know it won’t be accepted and it shouldn’t be. Stalking isn’t a ‘worst-case scenario’ here; it’s an everyday concern. We have a fairly large population of homeless people & mental patients in the city, & multiple stalking or harassment events each year.”

So – the issue is this: some librarians think that by giving out their last names, they’ll be set upon by stalkers. I certainly hear the concern, but before you get all up in my grill about this, let’s take a peek at some statistics, from Stalking Victimization in the United States – a national survey done in 2006.

What are the facts associated with stalking?

  • 14 in every 1000 people were victims of stalking – 3.4 million in 2006.
  • People who are divorced or separated are at the highest risk (34 out of 1000).
  • 3 out of 4 people already knew their stalker (i.e., it was a friend, acquaintance, ex-spouse or ex-boy/girlfriend – 30% were known intimate partners, 45% were acquaintances. Under 10% were strangers).
  • women age 34 and younger are the most at-risk group

So, perhaps a little perspective is needed on this whole stalking thing. Again, I’m certain that it’s a scary thing when it happens, and I’m really not trying to make light of the issue. I’ve known two three  people who have experienced it, and yep – freaked both of them out.

But – statistically speaking, stalkers aren’t going to the web to get your last name. They’re not eying your name badge in hopes of catching that last name either … because your stalker already knows who you are (creepy though that sounds).

So sure, stalking is a nasty problem. Sure, it’s probably not a good thing to publish your home address or cell phone number for the masses to find. Here’s a great resource for figuring out how to remove some of your personal information from public view.

But – most librarians simply don’t fit into the “most likely to be stalked” category. I’m not a female younger than 35. No one in my department is either. And librarians in general? Look around ALA Midwinter in a few weeks … again, not trying to come off as flippant (though some of you will no doubt suggest that I am) … most of us simply don’t fit that profile.

[edit – yep. This was a bad argument]

So – posting your last name on a library website or on a name badge? We ask much more than that of our patrons (first and last names, addresses, home phone numbers, proof of residence, etc). Yes, some of you have pointed out that waitresses, clerks, etc in other businesses don’t do this. Do you really want to compare our profession to part-time sales associate jobs?

I think not.

Please Ask for Assistance

don't touchI took this photo at a guitar store in a small town in Wisconsin. I get what they’re doing – lots of guitar/music stores do the very same thing. They really don’t mind you touching the guitar – as long as a staff member is standing beside you. Why?

Well … you might break the thing … you might scratch the back of the guitar … your playing style might be too rough for their floor model … it might be out of tune, and the floor rep could help you … the sales dude might need to “persuade” you that it sounds good …

And of course, the floor rep would need to remove that sign for you before you tested it out.

What’s going on here? This music store (like many others) is not focusing on customers. They are focusing on their stuff – their guitars, their drums, their merchandise. They want to make sure that merchandise isn’t damaged … maybe something bad happened once, and someone tripped while holding a guitar, and cracked it. But that’s certainly NOT the majority, is it? For the most part, they are actually damaging their business. Who wants to ask for assistance?

Guitar Center gets this. That has to be the noisiest music store I’ve ever visited. Why? Because they let you touch the merchandise. Grab a guitar off the wall, plug it into the largest amp you can find, and wail away. Go to the drum room, find some sticks, and try out that new Disturbed (yes, this is a rock bad) lick you just learned.

In the process, you get to test out the merchandise. And Guitar Center does a good job of pushing that merchandise (judging by the many large stores they have all over the US). It’s working for them.

Which leads me to my point – do we do this in libraries? Do we have processes in place that force customers to “ask for assistance” before they “test out the merchandise?” Some possibilities:

  • study rooms that you have to ask to use (or bathrooms, for that matter)
  • computers that are “locked down” so even simple things like USB drives don’t work on them
  • The reference section that can’t be checked out (even though those books aren’t used much)
  • A subscription service, like Overdrive, that’s there … but difficult enough to use that it turns customers away.
  • Or even good, useful services in your library that simply aren’t advertised (my library’s guilty of that – and we’re fixing it)?

How to fix this? Maybe start here – figure out the original reasoning behind the rule/policy. If it’s one of those “5 people did it so we’re punishing/protecting 100″ types of rules … simply stop it. Right now. You should have other policies in place to fix those things (like a behavior policy, a check out policy, a computer use policy, etc).

My guess is that if you get rid of those types of policies and procedures, you will be well on your way to fixing your own “please ask for assistance” signs in your library.

pic by carpaccio

Showing Patrons the Door

First, a funny story. When I lived in Nashville, I frequented a cool used record store. During one trip, I was trying to decide whether or not to buy a couple of old jazz cassette tapes (hey – I was on a tight budget).

The tiny shelf these cassette tapes were on was packed WAY too tightly, so when I tried to pull one cassette out to examine it, 2-3 others would fall out at the same time. And make lots of noise as they hit the floor (it was tile, of course). This happened a couple of times … in a row … and was pretty embarrassing!

So – to ease my embarrassment at not being able to figure out how to successfully pull a cassette tape off the shelf, a “helpful” shop security guard came over to me. He stood behind me, stared at me for a second, and said (and I quote) – “you’ve got 10 minutes, then you’d better be out of my store.” Then he walked away.

Boy, that helped. Thanks :-) That day, the store essentially “showed me the door” in no uncertain terms. Even though the problem wasn’t me – it was their tightly-packed shelf.

Now on to the title of this post, and to my point. Showing patrons the door? Yikes – we’d never do that (under normal circumstances, anyway)! Unlike the silly used record shop, librarians would never consciously walk up to a patron and tell them to leave if that patron was having trouble using something in the library … right?

I think we DO sometimes tell our patrons to leave when we make things difficult for them. We might as well be saying “here’s the door, don’t let it hit you on the way out.”

For example, if your library has a blog, do you moderate those comments? Quickly? I know of libraries that can go 1-2 weeks before they get around to moderating comments. In and of itself, moderating a comment is fine, as long as they are moderated fast (like within 1-4 hours). Blog posts are supposed to be the start of a conversation; comments continue that conversation. If those comments aren’t approved at least in the same day, you have essentially killed that conversation. To me, that sounds like showing patrons the door.

Is your website confusing? Do customers have to puzzle out what they need to do next while on your site? If so … your website is showing patrons the door. Same with our catalogs – a confusing catalog might just steer customers away from checking stuff out – and that’s one of our major, must-have services!

Do you let patrons sign up for a library card online (some libraries don’t)? How about having an online sign-up form that asks for WAY too much info? That’s a sure-fire way to show patrons the door.

What labels and naming schemes do you use on your site? Using heavy-duty librarian jargon might just be a great way to usher patrons towards the door.

How about not having a Facebook Page (or even blocking Facebook altogether)? Or simply doubting that your patrons use Facebook (without actually signing up for a Facebook account and checking)? Yet another way to show a group of very active, involved patrons the door.

Other ways to show patrons the door might include hard to find stuff on your website, hidden content, or even library services that aren’t mentioned anywhere on your website.

So – what do you think? What else shows patrons the door, and how can we fix that?

Pic by Cayusa