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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Embracing diverse values

I was thinking this morning about libraries and the idea that we often have a difficult time attracting those in the pinnacle of successful careers through our doors. On the surface, it just doesn’t make sense to me and yet having insight into the library world, it makes all the sense in the world. Let me start with a story….

I once borrowed two CDs from a library and lost the cases. I returned the CDs in non-library packing and the person behind the desk graciously explained I’d have to pay for the cases. She quoted me a price of $3 each. I let her know that was no problem, just put in on my account and I’d pay the next week when I came back. By the time I got home there was a call on my answering machine. Turns out the cost was actually $5 per case, not $3 and now the person was very concerned because of the additional charge and was willing to hold the CDs while I searched further. The library was closed by the time I heard the message and so I couldn’t call back right then. I dutifully searched further (old tapes form my childhood kept running through my head, “Waste not, want not.” That’s whole other story lol) and found one case and the next weekend I returned with it. Of course, now I was faced with a new person at the desk who couldn’t find the CDs so I had to wait until they were found. Then waited longer while I endured and endless process of handing my card, getting it back and handing it over again and again because “something didn’t take”. Then there was the mater of the $5 fine for the CD and just when I thought I was done, another person (maybe the next level boss) showed up needing to understand the story from the start again (another 5 minutes?). All the while the main emphasis for them seemed to be this $5 fine – but in fact what was far more valuable to me was my time… a clear conflict of values turned a good intention into poor customer service.

I sometimes think the conflict of values between our staff and our customers is an underlining theme for much of why we have a difficult time attracting certain audiences to our libraries.

I’ve heard other values expressed by library personnel. How many of these sound like values these opinions familiar?
”Kids should do their own homework- not their parents.”
“Google doesn’t give the best answers.”
“Writing in a book is defacing it.”
“Trends aren’t as good as tried and true practices.”
“People like to get answers in person from an expert.”
“People would never pay for a book if they knew they could borrow it for free.”
Add “CD, movie, computer program, etc… in the above sentence.
“Parents should know what their kids are reading.”

It isn’t that these values are wrong to have, it is just that as libraries we need to understand that they are not the only values that exist. When we are learning how to reach out to different audiences we need to become aware of the diversity of values and look to incorporate those differences in creative ways.

For example, I was reading a book this morning that encourages the reader to write in the margins and underline important passages. I have long been a margin-writer. I still have the first copy of Walden’s Pond I ever bought and treasure those highlights and comments made so long ago. I still find books at the library that I sooooo want highlight but of course- respect that it is a borrowed book. But what if my library offered slightly used books at a minimum cost (higher than the book sale yet lower than retail- keeping taxpayers and newspapers from critical reviews). And what if these books weren’t put out on display like the average book sale, but listed instead on the web or better yet, emailed to me and all the other people who have signed up for this service? Oh, and this list could even be offered to people who don’t have library card but who might be interested in purchasing books. Call it a club- give us member benefits like places on the web where we can review and share comments about the book or better yet, pre-order new books at a discount… the options are limitless, but only if we embrace different values.

Listen, learn and create solutions that truly meet the needs of that customer.


Emily C said...

What a great post. It is so important for us to understand that members of our service populations may have very different values from our own. Time vs. Money is a big one, I think - many of our users are more than happy to shell out their hard earned cash for more convenient ways to access materials, information and services. Being free is great, but if you're going to eat up my time forget it. I'll get the books from Amazon, or take my kid down to a program at Gymboree. The convenience is worth the cost for many people. Forgetting that difference in values could be the kiss of death when it comes to marketing libraries to some segments of our populations.

Nancy Dowd said...

Thanks for the comment Emily. I stopped by at your blog, Library Revolution, and loved it! Great post about simple solutions! Have linked you on my sidebar. Good luck- Nancy