Improving Library Services: A Review of Techniques
There are several different techniques that libraries can employ to improve the quality of service that it offers to it community. The following is a list of some of the various techniques that a library may choose to employ.
- Use of integrated service points – One method currently in use by many libraries is the use of integrated public service points. The point of this method is to combine all public service points, especially the reference and circulation points, into one access point. The hope is to eliminate the confusion on the part of the patrons who may be unsure about which desk to take their question. Some universities have actually combined their public service points with the IT help desk and created information commons. This helps to improve service because of the increasing number of technology questions that patrons ask of library staff. (Flanagan and Horowitz, 2005).
- Cross training of staff – This point can be closely related to the use of integrated service points. When combing service points, staff generally need to be cross-trained to handle a variety of new tasks. Usually, reference librarians need to be trained to handle basic circulation tasks – ie checking out material, inputting patron records, etc. Circulation staff need to be able to handle basic information requests. More complicated reference questions are usually still handled by reference librarians. This often means that job descriptions for circulation staff need to be reworked to include the new job responsibilities. Additionally, cross training of acquisitions and cataloging staff can be employed in order to streamline the process by which books and material are ordered and processed. (Callahan and Watson, 1995).
- Flexible management technique – One of the tenets of the total quality of management technique which requires focus on customer needs and their expectations is that management be flexible. Directors need to engage library staff in the decision making process in order to respond to different issues and problems. Management that is not flexible will not allow the library organization to respond quickly to changes in the needs of the community. This would be especially problematic in today’s society where change happens often. (Ehigie and McAndrew, 2005).
- Redefine the library’s physical space – The physical makeup of libraries is changing dramatically in reaction to new forms of media in collections and new patrons demands. Coffee shops, comfortable seating, computer labs, internet connections and communal workspaces are among the new types of services people are expecting to see at their local libraries. People also expect access to movies, computer software, audio and e-books and electronic databases. The Arena Park Library in
Coventry, UK, is actually located in the heart of a retail environment in order to attract users. (Childs, 2006).
- Allow users to participate in decisions about which services to offer – There has been a great deal of talk about needing to reorient library’s service models based on user-centered change. Library 2.0 is a current buzzword that is getting a fair amount of press of late. One of the basic principles is to allow the customers to tailor the library services to fit their needs. One way to help accomplish this goal is through the use of social software which patrons can use to interact with library services and make recommendations to library staff about their information needs and habits. (Casey and Savastinuk, 2006).
- Focus on new models of professional development for the entire staff – With the current fast pace of technological change, management needs to find ways to keep staff abreast of such changes and aware of the changes taking place in the world of libraries. One important way to accomplish this is create a library committee with the backing of the library management to suggest programs and find resources for training. Allowing staff to have input and discuss their training needs is very important. (Callahan and Watson, 1995). Staff often need training for new technologies, but also often request classes in management and personal development (i.e. stress reduction). It is critical that the library management make a real commitment to staff development. Creating a committee and then not following through with recommendations would inhibit the process and give staff the message that the management was not committed to training. (Callahan and Watson, 1995).
- Adding content to library catalogs (OPACs) – Given the popularity of web sites like Google and Amazon, many patrons choose to bypass the library and seek information elsewhere. In order to compete, library catalogs need to be transformed into something usable for patrons. Adding federated searching capabilities is one way to add functionality. It would also be advisable to add patron functionality such as patron self-renewal, document delivery requests, etc. Adding such capabilities to the OPAC will make the services offered much more useful to the library community. Many libraries are also incorporating new content into their OPACs: book jackets, book reviews, table of contents, etc. Not only do these new services add useful content that make the OPAC a good source of information, they also help to enhance the visual impact of the library catalog. (Carden, 2004).
- Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to advertise library services – Traditionally, libraries, especially academic ones, have not considered marketing to be an important part of library services. However, in today’s changing world, marketing library services has become a necessity. Many people are simply unaware of the types of materials and services that libraries offer. People are much more familiar with the services that Google and Amazon can supply, and they tend to these places quickly because they know about them. (Sen, 2006).
- Re-evaluate the current library user and their information needs – Libraries love to count things and keep statistics about usage. However, the needs of the library user are changing dramatically – as is the way the people actually use libraries. In order to determine how best to serve its patrons, libraries need to take a look at how its patrons use the library (i.e. via the physical space or remotely). Implementation of new services, like virtual reference, online forms, audio and video downloads, can only be effective if they suit the needs of the community. As such, it is imperative that libraries understand who their patrons are and what they need. Bejune and Kinkus write “While questions still remain as to how the needs of virtual and face-to-face patrons are similar and/or different, librarians and libraries must remain flexible and open to change if they are to continue to satisfy their patrons’ needs, whenever and wherever the patron may be.” It is important to note that this needs be a continuous and dynamic process. Patrons and their needs must be reassessed constantly. (Bejune and Kinkus, 2006).
- Re-evaluate library signage – Negative signage has a tendency to make libraries seem like forbidding places. Signage is important to help users feel comfortable and to understand how to navigate the library. However, patrons will be overwhelmed by too many signs. Too often, the majority of signs are the “No Cell Phones, “No Food or Drink,” etc. Libraries should rethink their signage policy; remove signs they do not need and rethink the wording of signs that are deemed critical. Making the library an inviting place for patrons to come is essential in order for libraries to continue to attract customers. (Bosman, 1997).
- Beware of technology for technology’s sake – Many libraries tend to implement technologies without fully understanding them and the need that they support. Technology is not the solution, but can be a means to provide better service to library patrons. Many of the new services that patrons are demanding or expecting are dependent on technology. It is easy to think that simply throwing technology at the users will impress them. However, poorly implemented technology can simply frustrate patrons and make them look elsewhere to fulfill their information needs. Technology can only help provide better service if it fulfills a real need, is well planned and well executed. (Casey and Savastinuk, 2006).
Bejune, Matthew and Jane Kinkus, “Creating a Composite of User Behavior to Inform Decisions about New and Existing Library Services,” Reference Services Review 34(2), (2006): 185-192.
Bosman, Ellen and Carol Rusinek, “Creating the User-Friendly Library by Evaluating Patron Perceptions of Signage”, Reference Services Review 25(1), (1997): 71-82.
Callahan, Daren and Mark Watson, “Care of the Organization: Training and Development Strategies,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 21(5), (September 1995): 376-381.
Carden, Mark, “Library Portals and Enterprise Portals: Why Libraries Need to at the Centre of Enterprise Portal Projects,” Information Services & Use 24 (2004): 171-177.
Casey, Michael E. and Laura C. Savastinuk, “Library 2.0,” Library Journal 131(14), (September 1, 2006): 40-42.
Childs, Paul, “Sssh! The Quiet Revolution,” New Library World 107(1222/1223), (2006), 149-156.
Ehigie, Benjamin Osayawe and Elizabeth B. McAndrew, “Innovation, Diffusion and Adoption of Total Quality of Management (TQM),” Management Decision 43(6), (2005): 925-940.
Flanagan, Pat and Lisa R. Horowitz, “Exploring New Service Models: Can Consolidating Public Service Points Improve Response to Customer needs?,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36(5) (Summer 2000): 329-338.
Sen, Barbara, “Defining Market Orientation for Libraries,” Library Management 27(4/5) (2006): 201-217.