people

I recently had a bad experience at a library that reminded me why I started this blog in the first place. My bad experience did not occur in any of the counties in which I currently live or work.

I walked into the library and asked a simple question at the front desk. I was given a simple answer from a person who did not even bother to look in my direction: NO. It doesn’t matter what the question was or who the staff person was or who I was (or wasn’t) to that person. All that mattered was that one word answer, the tone of voice, and the lack of interest expressed.

At that point I certainly didn’t care what was contained in the library’s physical collection. I didn’t care whether they had ebooks. I didn’t care whether they had wifi or public computers. I didn’t care if they served coffee or had a 3-D printer. I didn’t care what programs they were offering or if I could find a nice, comfortable chair in which to sit. I walked out the door without knowing anything about what the library had to offer.

There was a time when librarians didn’t have to worry about customer service. A time when they were the only game in town for books and access to research materials and resources. That is no longer the case. Although public libraries do offer many unique services and are, of course, not just about books, people can choose other means to get their information. We are certainly not the only information game in town anymore.

We offer services for people. We serve people. People are our business, not books or technology. Librarians who don’t like people shouldn’t work in libraries. And it doesn’t matter whether that person is a credentialed librarian or staff. Anyone who works in a library is a librarian to most people. Surly attitudes, abruptness, annoyance, and condescension on the part of staff don’t belong in a library anymore than a machine gun.

Librarians can be the best or worst thing about a library. As David Lee King recently pointed out in his blog response to the now famous Forbes opinion piece

So – you mentioned that you have a local library. Instead of someone providing a plane ticket for you [he suggested in the comments that someone buy him a plane ticket so he could visit their library], why don’t you simply get in your car and visit your own local library for starters, and see what they do?

Yes. Visiting a library might be the best way to see what they do. But if you want people to care about what your library does once they get there, your staff had better be nice at a minimum. Your services might bring people in the door. But your people might be the reason they don’t come back.