Giving the user what they don’t want

Got thinking about this topic the other day at work. We are trialling self-serve holds, where the patron collects their own hold. We are trialling it, because our holds are getting out of control, since we changed our LMS with a consortia of now 12 library services and dropped our holds fee. So now our users have access to the collections of 12 public library services, through our holds facility and it doesn’t cost them anything. We are getting so many holds that we don’t have enough room at the desk to hold them and it was causing all sorts of issues.

Anyway, the trial has only started this week and the first I heard about how it was going, was the fact that they had already had a complaint. We do things that our patrons don’t want all the time. We introduced library fines years ago and have lending limits on our collections. Quite a few years ago we stopped stamping our items and starting giving people receipts for their loans and we had an uproar of complaints and people almost begging to be able to stamp items themselves, if nothing else. Many, many years later, we still have the odd complaint about receipts, but these days its usually because they lost their receipt and then incurred overdue fines for not returning their items on time.

We have gaming consoles in one of our branches and are launching it in 2 others this week. When our first branch went live, we had a raft of complaints, which I thought our library CEO handled very well. A lot of people didn’t like it, but that hasn’t stopped us from installing them in 2 other branches.

Why don’t our users want these things? Because they perceive that its not better for them, or as with the gaming consoles, can be detrimental. Sometimes its because it doesn’t fit the image of what a public library is or does (as with many of the gaming complaints). But at what point do we do things or stop doing them, despite people not liking it?

We introduced fines many years ago because our average loan period, which should have been about 2 1/2 weeks, with items having either a 1 week or 4 week loan, was averaging about 6 weeks. We introduced fines so that people would be inspired to return items in a more timely manner, thereby making them available to all our users in a fairer manner. The same reasoning of fairness applies to our limit of 1 renewal and our limits on DVD, CD and video loans.

So I have some questions: What is the percentage of dissatisatisfaction you accept, before you stop a service or restriction? ie. proportion of people that are unhappy with something – 50%? 80%? Is there a limit or do other factors come into play to balance against those proportions? I know printing receipts has markedly reduced the possibility of RSI from the stamping process. How long do you trial something that causes dissatisfaction? In other words, how long do you give your users to get used to it and the benefits (because hopefully it will ultimately benefit them in some way) it produces, before you give up it? For our loan limits, it was decades!

Would love to hear of your experiences of when you give your users what they don’t want.


  1. Great questions to ask! One I really think about is how many people do you need to hear from before you create a new service? I think I heard from 20 distance learners (out of 1800, so a little over 1% of the population) that ILL was too slow before we changed the way we did it, which was significant work for us. While it’s benefited people and it is a great service, I just find it funny that we make decisions based on so little feedback. We may have one group of teens tell us they’d love to have gaming and then assume that gaming is something the population is clamoring for. I think often we base decisions on whether to start/stop a service on not enough research. So essentially, the loudest voices dictate what we do. At least that’s how it is where I am.

    • Tania on June 19, 2008 at 4:43 am

    Hi Michelle

    Do we really give users what they don’t want? Or do we try to find things they will want but that they haven’t thought about? πŸ™‚

    We introduced self serve holds well over 12 months ago, in an effort to actually have better customer service. Having users get their own holds means that other users are not waiting while we get them and it makes people wait even less than they did. Complaints? Yes – from some staff who, believe it or not, think it is bad customer service for a patron to get their own holds. I look at it this way – they also get their own books, do they not? We don’t escort them around the library getting books off the shelf for them, do we? If we see a user having trouble with the system, or we think they won’t be able to find the hold, we always go and help, as the reservations are close to the desk.

    I am all for at least trialling what users don’t want πŸ™‚

    • harps on July 21, 2008 at 4:00 am

    The self serve holds is an interesting one. One of our branches has had it as an ongoing trial for quite a while, yet when we refurbished our other branch, management didn’t opt to design it in. From what I hear, there’s been a lot of trouble, with things being nicked and put out of order.

    I can see that when we introduce an online or Wii games room that we’ll have the protectors of libraries past complaining that “there’s young people in there having fun.”

    The thing is, if we only do what we used to do, as a customer suggested to a collegue just last week, we’ll go back in the card catalogue days. We shouldn’t change for bad reasons (and sometimes you can only suck it and see) but we can’t let the whingers and the old school “sushers” who want to go back to 1935 get thier way either, because they’re not the future customer.

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