Friday, November 20, 2009

Fitting the Patron into the Organization

Bradford pears next to the science building (library obscured)

Listening to the radio on the way to work on a recent morning, I heard an advertisement for a bank (Ally Bank, if anyone is curious) promising service from "a real human." This implies a person answering the phone instead of an automated phone system. As a customer, this sounded attractive to me -- the very thought of an automated phone system makes me groan. It's an annoying process, but doubtless it saves the company money...

...And there are parallels with the reference desk. What I would love to do is automate the process of answering some of our most common questions. Mostly this is for selfish reasons related to the sense that I answer the same question 20 times per day. But by doing this we may not be best serving the students. They may instead groan because they have to read a sign explaining how to print instead of asking someone to show them quickly, for example.

Then again, what service are we at the college providing? While public libraries have public service as part of their core missions, at the college we are focused on education. We are trying to promote independent adult behavior and a desire to learn.

Our students come from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of expectations, and becoming an independent learner is not always at the top of their lists. Perhaps in the past the librarian looked up books for them, they were never expected to know how to handle malfunctioning computers, or they were never even allowed to work on a computer unsupervised. Now they are in college. Should we encourage students to work without mediation, or should we behave like a business and cater to their every whim?

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