Saturday, November 24, 2007

Face time versus Facebook

I am beginning to see a backlash towards technology. It isn't unusual. Many of the web 2.0 ideas have run their course. Many of them are being readily adopted into businesses and libraries. It is common to see online video, podcasts, and blogs on the average website. What I am beginning to see is a growing discontent with technology.

The Technology Genius
Many librarians and library directors can appear as geniuses when they begin to implement some new technology. "It makes things faster." "It's automated and available 24/7." The use of technology can bolster a library very quickly because the library shows up in places one would not expect. It increases library usage by changing the public perception of libraries, but then what? What really makes a library successful? We can provide a multitude of technology wizardry and marketing to get our public into our library, but it cannot stop there. There must be something of quality for the public to come to. It is the human interface that can solve problems, provide a smile, and fix something that is broken. The analytical mind and friendliness of human contact certainly far outweighs a self-check automated world.

The Discontent
Several librarian bloggers have noted this discontent.

Laura Crosset at what we can do

Defrag was, I am sure, a fascinating conference (if I had had a spare $1300 lying around somewhere, I would have gone–there was even a $140 round trip ticket from Billings). But I would guess that the people there were not trying to decide what books to read for story time, or how to do better outreach to the Spanish-speaking population, or how to teach people to use e-mail, or how to fit a thorough bibliographic instruction into one hour slot. That’s in no way meant as a criticism of defrag. It is meant to remind us (myself most emphatically included) that not every problem we have in libraries is a technology problem, that not everything we do can be done with technology, and that sometimes paper and markers work just fine.

So Laura's comments speak to the fact that not every problem and solution in a library is a technology solution. The library certainly provides more than just technology. In a way, an over reliance upon that technology can lead to diminished customer service. Putting robots in the way of people doesn't provide good results.

Mary Beth at Impromptu Librarian:Shiny Things


This is not too far from the current hoo-ha in the library world over all things 2.0. Granted, a lot of the technological toys associated with 2.0 are cool and may give your library an edge with your patrons. But the reality is that good old-fashioned library customer service and a terrific collection go a lot farther to endear your patrons than IM reference.

Let’s all take a deep breath and focus on why we’re here an what we’re doing….and try not to get so sidetracked by the shiny things.


So again, it is really the people interaction and good customer service that creates the most impact. In a technology world, a conversation with a person is very, very welcome. I would state that 80% of the library's good press comes from good customer service and it is spread via word of mouth. If you are good, everyone knows it. If you are just sticking a piece of technology out there for attention, that's fine, but poor services will come back to haunt you. You will only expose the library's shortcomings.

Library Garden: The Human Touch
Yesterday morning I renewed my contact with Kris. She was still there, picking up the phone after one ring with a friendly greeting, helping me figure out the forms and understand the ramifications of my choices. She even made a few phone calls to assure that I'd get the early-bird rate even though I was a few days past the deadline ("Oh, since this is your first time exhibiting...")

How many times does a patron log into their account online, only to have a technical glitch prevent them from renewing a book or reviewing a database? A quick phone call can have it resolved during operating hours. This type of automation is great as it empower the user to do things on their own. This is always the problem, "It isn't working the way it is supposed to, can you fix it, and QUICKLY?"

Library Garden: Convenience
I'm not suggesting that every library needs to be doing virtual reference (although I do think every library should at least be available through IM.) I am suggesting that if libraries are to thrive, it's imperative that we audit our staff and services with a critical eye toward ramping up convenience and bringing a human touch to all of our services and all primary points of contact with our customers (our front doors, our phone systems, and our websites.)

In this case, instant messaging provides that human touch. I would bet that most virtual reference interactions are based on patrons having issues with their library accounts or with something specific to the library. I bet it would be frustrating to have a consortium virtual reference without the ability to do anything about that kind of problem. In general, how to we provide all of our services with a human touch, even when using technology. It is very difficult to convey.

Walking Paper: “yet it is such an easy sell, if only people knew”

I still can’t get over what Steve said about a public library. Not the interwebs, not, not school, not a club. The public library.

i feel like i just discovered the greatest place in the world to satisfy my interests and it has been there all along

Most of the library is just marketing to get someone in the door. Once you have done that, they are sold. (Unless of course, you have rude staff.) The public can realize all the resources that are there and how helpful everyone is. It's not the technology, it is what the library does. A library's main objective is to serve its public in the way they desire. It is great to have all the new technology, but if you are not covering your basic services well, you are wasting your time.

Goblin in the Library: Conference Here There Everywhere

What can’t I get online? What do I need to physically attend conferences for? I need face-to-face interaction and conversation. I need spontaneous gatherings. I need occurrences of random escapades and shenanigans. I can get some of that online (the LSW Meebo room is great for that), but nothing really replaces in-person socialization.

This post is more in reference to conferences, but it still convey the same meaning. Maybe I just want to talk to someone face to face, ask them a question, really get into it. Some people may want the quick and easy. A library can provide that through technology, but a majority of my library users come and stay all day. There is a reason for that.

2.0 is Just for Show

It is easy to look impressive with some web2.0/library2.0 piece of technology. In a way, this demonstrates to the public that we are a modern library and understand the changing world. The content doesn't necessarily have to be impressive, just updated. That alone, can bring people into the library, not necessarily the usage of that technology, but the observance that the library runs it. The library surprises them and appears dynamic. I actually had a patron come into the library the other day and comment on my interview on Bryan Person's podcast. It was a very strange experience, but it taught me that the items I have out there have an impact, but they don't have to have high usage rates to demonstrate it.

Library as a place or a cold impersonal space?

This post was inspired by something I read on PubLib posted by Joe Schallan. He always provides the best perspective on today's libraries (even better than the annoyed librarian, of course he may be the annoyed librarian). He lamented the fact that we librarians run off to conferences and talk of "library as a place", then go about automating everything and installing self-check machines everywhere. Whenever possible, we automate services instead of having the one on one interaction. We seem to be confused at what we are trying to do. This is usually for budgetary reasons. We state we want patrons to come into the library an interact with us, stay for a while. We then push them to machines, mail out their books, and do whatever possible so that people don't come into our library. I understand the need for convenience, but who are our real customers and are we serving them with technology?

We talk about online and our digital customers quite a bit, but it is inside our libraries where the rubber hits the road. A majority of the library's services include physical objects, physical spaces, and tools. The technology piece is cheap, flashy, and less expensive than staff. Furthermore, the use of technology to solve problems can make one look like a genius. The request for additional staff to solve a problem is usually looked down upon. This is a difficult quandary around budget time as the technology becomes cheap and easy, but impersonal (and on the back-end require almost as much work when it is broken). It can lead to an erosion of customer service and result in the library being viewed as cold. This can later affect the support from the community.

We want the library to be perceived as warm and friendly and to provide the average patron access to a variety of resources. The top thing most people will say when they mention the library is that the books are new and they love X staff member. That in-person interaction goes farther than anything else. It is the person who is dedicated to the library patron, makes his or her best effort to help them no matter the question, and is willing to walk out from behind the desk to solve their problems immediately that patrons most remember. It is a model of customer service. Patrons will remember these experiences more than the interact of some technology. The human face with a happy smile is the best thing the library can do.


John Miedema said...

I have heard it said that "a book is a cold but true friend". Of course, that's no excuse for making libraries chilly.

J B Schallan said...

I like the Annoyed Librarian, but I definitely am NOT the Annoyed Librarian!

Jeff Scott said...


I did say better. However, when you say you are not guilty without being accused, I get suspicious...