Library Service

| March 13, 2013

The article, Library Service as theatre by Cherry, J., and Calvert, P. (2012) explores the attitudes librarians have towards customer service. Cherry and Calvert (2012) took a look at past literature that has explored library service. It was found that librarians believe that quality of service is one of the most important aspects of being a librarian. Interestingly, despite agreement that good service is of the upmost importance, research has found that many librarians deliver subpar service to patrons. Cherry and Calvert (2012) compiled an interesting list of instances where librarians offered poor service discovered by past research. Some of the examples included:

– Not looking up from current work – McArthur and Nicholson, (2005)
– Not getting up to assist the customer – Massey and Burzio (1998)
– Being abrupt when asked too many questions – Black and Crann (2002)

It’s an intriguing inconsistency that librarians feel service is important yet fail to deliver good service. Cherry and Calvert (2012) were influenced by this paradox and examined the retail model of service and a professional model of service and how accepting librarians were of these models. Cherry and Calvert (2012) found that the librarians in their study felt a person is either good at providing service or isn’t but that good service behavior isn’t something that can be learned. Librarians also felt that the retail model of service may even diminish the service provided. Librarians expressed that they felt prescribed customer service behaviors would take away from the authenticity of interactions. Librarians in this study also said that they associated a retail model of service with a lacking proper knowledge. They felt the emphasis on customer service shifts the focus away from being intelligent and knowledgeable.

Cherry and Calvert (2012) show that librarians value service but are resistant to retail models of service training. Librarians don’t want to be told how to act, but often service interactions with librarians leave a lot to be desired. How can we overcome negative views of retail service training and help librarians to improve their interactions with patrons? This is the central question that I took away from reading the article, Library Service as Theatre.

After reading this article I found myself thinking about my own assumptions about library service and the way that I act with library patrons. I too often feel that ‘some people have it and some people don’t’. This study made me think a little harder about why I feel that way. I do feel that some people enjoy interacting with people more than others and you can’t teach someone to like working with people. With that said I do believe that even if you enjoy being in a service profession there is always room for improvement.

Encouraging librarians to assess their own quality of service may be a meaningful way for librarians to constantly strive to be better at service, a skill that is central to being a librarian. If librarians are asked to critically think about and reflect on their own service behaviors they will automatically become more aware of how they interact with patrons. Just by being more aware librarians will start to deliver better service.

Another interesting point the study brings up is that librarians feel that those who excel at retail customer service standards are not capable and smart. If examples are compiled of librarians who are knowledgeable and provide excellent customer service this will help breakdown stereotypes that librarians have. We have great examples right here in our library!

What qualities do you think librarians and library staff should posses? Do you think that good service can be taught? Does this article influence how you think library training should be executed?

Cherry, J., Calvert, P. (2012) Library service as theatre. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 64 (2) 201 – 214

Black, A. and Crann, M. (2002), “In the public eye: a mass observation of the public library”, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 145 -57

McArthur, M and Nicholson, K. (2005), “The customer care challenge”, Public Library Journal, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp2-4

Massey-Burzio, V. (1998), “From the other side of the reference desk: a focus group study”, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 24 No 3 pp. 208 -15.