Blog every day of June – Can there be too much customer service? – Tue 17 June

Librarians are all about customer service but there are differing levels that can be found at different libraries and even from different staff within the staff library.

I have come across this with staff in the past.  A staff member would spend quite a length of time helping one library user.  That library user thought the library was wonderful and they received the best service imaginable. The only problem was that everyone else received a lesser service, because that one staff member was tied up with that one user for that entire lengthy time.

The staff member could still have provided excellent customer service, but in a shorter time span and without it being to the detriment of other library users, who had to wait longer for service and who couldn’t get as much time as library staff would like to have given.

That’s a staff management issue and you deal with it as it arises.  After all, all library users should receive good customer service. But today I read about a new service being offered by a public library in the US, which made me wonder whether there can be too much customer service.

Columbus Metropolitan Library has introduced a new service, where all non-digital items are automatically renewed at the end of their loan period. There are exceptions for items that are on hold, where the user has over $10 in fines and when the item has reached its maximum of 10 renewals.

Wow, was my first response. That’s an amazing service, which was what the article I was reading about it was also saying, but then came the but…..

  • Where is the personal responsibility of the library user?  Our library users get a receipt when they borrow, can login to their account online or call us to check on when their items are due and many receive courtesy reminders three days before they are due, so they are given opportunity to return on time or to renew.   Having said that, I don’t know if Columbus does these things as well, and their CEO has stated that they have introduced it to make it “easier for….. customers to keep the items they enjoy” and “minimizes the potential for fines.”  So do our courtesy reminders. We find that often items are renewed because the user hasn’t even looked at it yet – not always, but often.
  • 10 renewals?  I don’t think that would work for us, because although we have a lot of people placing holds, there are many more that just want to pick something up off the shelf and if its out for over half a year, they are never going to see it (there is still room in the library for serendipity).  Columbus may have a different experience however.
  • Stewardship – we have a responsibility for our collections and are required here to keep an accounting for where our items are.  If items are renewed automatically and potentially could be out for between 11 and 33 weeks (Columbus loan periods very depending on item format, between 1 and 3 weeks), then how can you realistically report that you know where library items are.  With automatic renewals and up to 10 of them, you won’t learn about any loss, moves or changes. until many months have past.

Columbus has said that it will be particularly beneficial to users who are housebound, with limited access to transport (including teens).  We have solutions and services in place for these users and libraries which are located close to public transport, as well as a mobile library service which goes to outer areas and a housebound service which delivers and collects items from individual users.  There are many options already for those who need a different kind of service, so maybe having those things as well, negates our need for it.

I am sure there are many of our library users who would love this type of service.  But there are many others who would be disadvantaged by it as well.  And the library would not be able to satisfactorily serve all its users and meet its accounting responsibilities if it were to offer it.

However, our users may be very different to those in Columbus. So what may be too much customer service for my library right now may be right on target for them.  And who knows what the future will bring – it might be right for us in the future as well…….

Have you come across library services which you thought might have been “too much”, either as a library staff member or as a library user?  If so, I would love to hear about them.