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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Redux: Patrons vs. Customers

On 07, Jan 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I know there’s an age old debate in Libraryland about what to call the people who visit our libraries. There was recently an excellent post about it on Designing Better Libraries and I totally agreed with the ideas in it. But the debate came up again, for me, in this recent piece in the New York Times about libraries and bookstores, so I thought I would add my two cents.

I don’t think it matters what we call those people who come through our doors (virtual or real). What matters is that we give them a great user experience.

I’m a strong believer in customer service be it at a store, a restaurant, an airport, where ever. I have expectations for how I will be treated when I go somewhere, especially where I am either paying for the service through my taxes (e.g. the sheriff’s office, the library, etc.) or where I will be spending my hard-earned money. I want to be greeted and acknowledged, not ignored. I want to feel welcome. I want to be treated fairly, politely, and respectfully. I want to be asked if I need help, especially if I am standing near an employee clearly waiting to be helped. I also want to be apologetically told if you can’t immediately help me or serve me. I want to be thanked if I am kind or spend money. I know this can sound demanding, but for the most part, I’m low maintenance. I don’t expect groveling or great shows of gratitude.

The thing is, I think librarians need to realize that we are in customer service. We are there to serve the people who come in and wouldn’t be there if not for them. We need to be friendly and helpful. Librarians love to talk about how we have knowledge and skills in all different areas that we want to share with people, so we need to make sure those people want to come to the library and learn from us and use our collections.

I do understand there are always people who are rude and undeserving of politeness. I like to call them jerks (or worse), not customers or patrons. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your composure, but if you do they look all the worse for being out of line. Keeping customer service in mind doesn’t mean we need to let people walk all over us or carry on deep conversations with people while we check out books. Just that we need to remember why we got into the profession.

So, as I said, it doesn’t matter what we call the people who come through our doors. If it helps you to think of them as customers so that you remember to give them a positive user experience, then you should. If you already know and think it sounds too insulting to call them customers, then don’t. Just be sure everyone is getting what they need with a smile or at least a polite and respectful attitude.


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