Saturday, May 19, 2007

Libraries: Good, Cheap, but not Fast

There is a saying that often adorns many business desks:
Services can be good, cheap, or fast, pick two:
If good and fast, it cannot be cheap.
If fast and cheap, it cannot be good.
If good and cheap, it cannot be fast

The latter is a model most libraries have chosen. However, it's interesting to note how often I hear patrons would be willing to pay for better services. This sentiment is often not shown through taxes. They seem to want to pay more, but when the time comes, that support doesn't materialize.

Often libraries will attempt to offer the fast service for a price. This decision must be weighed carefully as the attempt can lead to the fast and cheap model, losing the good. This is a major reason decisions and service levels change more slowly, again better to be good than fast.

Interestingly enough, this request for fast service, or convenience, comes from non-users. This makes the decision even more difficult as one risks losing the existing users to go after non-users. Nothing miffs patrons more than the dismantling of an existing and popular service. This is magnified if the dismantling comes at the behest of a perceived "progress". I ran into this when I made the decision between more space for computers, and less space for paperbacks. (Read more here or here.) I was successful, but I ran into a great deal of resistance. However, I was justified because I had more demand on computers than I did not paperback books.

Furthermore, it may be no amount of trying will satisfy anyone, let alone create new users. The question of "Why Try?" comes all to easy.

I do often get frustrated reading librarian bloggers lament about how their local libraries should do A, B, and C. This complaint often goes out on his or her blog instead of trying to create the change locally. I am a big believer of "Think Globally, Act Locally", so when I see a blog post about it, my first thought is, what did this person do to try to create that change. This is very frustrating for someone like me. I would rather you told me, "THIS SUCKS", than complain to the world about how much I suck. This is more directed at the library patron.

Many libraries do what they do according to a strategic plan. (If your library doesn't have one, or doesn't do it, that really needs to change, nothing inspires the public as much as having a say in how their library should serve them.) If you are looking to create change in your local library, this is something to review to see if you and the library are on the same wavelength.

However, you are at a disadvantage if you are just starting to use the local public library. Existing patrons beat you. They have already made the library their own. If you haven't been using us already, you are in the minority. In my community, we have 38,000 people, 24,000 have library cards. It can take a few months before services can begin to shifted towards what you want. If the public wants more mysteries or Christian fiction, and you like Science Fiction, it will take a while to push us to get more science fiction, but you need to ask. Not only that, you need to ask and USE IT! Nothing is more annoying than a patron who comes in to demand a service or a book, then when we do it, no one shows up to the program and no one checks out the book (the patron just thought we should have it). Libraries don't have endless resources, they need the constant push to get them to do what you want AND you have to use it. Otherwise, we look like we are wasting our time.

For librarians trying to create change, if your idea gets shot down, you can't give up on it as fast as the administration did. You have to keep trying, changing, repacking, and pushing. It's knowing what to do in what situation in order to get what you want. One of my favorite all-time shows was the Prisoner (aired before my time, but watched the whole thing on the Sci-Fi channel hosted by Harlan Ellison, one of my all-time favorite authors). This show has some of my favorite quotes:

“He has revolted. Resisted. Fought. Held fast. Maintained. Destroyed resistance. Overcome coercion. The right to be a person, someone or individual. We applaud his private war, and concede that despite materialistic efforts, he has survived intact and secure!”

Fight for change, listen for change, keep the conversation going, keep the brain working, and it keeps you ready to move forward. One needs to push, one needs to listen, one needs to implement. Expect the process to be slow, but it will be better.

No comments: