Sunday, January 24, 2010

ponderings on a hot Sunday - help in the library...

Avoiding the thought of going out in the heat, 34.7C (94.46F) at 11.00am, I was reading a travel blog of a friend librarian who was visiting Europe (reading about being cold can be fun, but I am not sure I would like the experience) and his account of a Monday visit to the new 'Amsterdam Central Library'. It is an interesting account of the services, the wine bar at the front and the eating area with great views. The thing he found lacking, besides the lighting on the 6th floor being "some of the worst shelf lighting I've ever seen in my life!", seemed to be, in his opinion, helpful staff.

After some unsuccessful attempts to interest staff in his queries about the Library, the stock, the building and other information that interests Librarians visiting other libraries, he goes on to say,
"I've taken a lot from this building with regard to design, layout and stock but there is NO substitute for trained, professional and helpful staff to make the library successful."
The blog entry is here if you want to read it Wightbear's wanderings.

I was thinking he might have enjoyed more a visit to DOK in Delft, I know that is a place I would like to visit :-)

Thinking further about the staffing of Libraries, it brings me back to thinking about MPOW and our team. We in our small branch, are changing our approach to answering queries and visibility, altering our thinking from 'got to get to the back room to finish that task', to siting at the desk and completing tasks, if we can, between queries from clients.

We have recently had a facelift at the front desk area of the library. At the entrance, we had a black blank wall of returns slot and hidden processing area that did not give any one entering the library a view of helpful staff anywhere. With the renovation we have a hopefully inviting 'Help' desk, with client seating that actually faces the entrance and a new computer room, here open when the library is open, off to the side of that desk.

The mission this year, and hopefully the team will be able to cover it :-) is to staff that desk at all opening hours and 'help' clients with queries.
We know that more and more services are electronic, and we are being asked more often how to access these services. From simple queries about passwords (not so simple a lot of the time, given our different schools and client range, yr 11 to post grad), to how to decide which electronic database would be best for a given subject. Given also that we are a resonably fully employed town, with a lot of part-time study, a great number of our clients also work and have family responsibilities. If we can smooth the way for a client that has only a set amount of hours to complete a task, well, yay!

Our team already swings into action when a query from a client or a visitor to the area comes in, however we had found this could be delayed by the layout of the entrance statement and the confusion of where to go for information. We have discovered that while we may be a university library branch, we are the only technical library in this area and we have certain obligations to support the community we live in. We have a lot of visitors researching, personal and other topics and they rely on the information they can find in a quick visit, so 'onward and upward' with the new renovation.

I suppose my point is, that my friend had little time in Amsterdam and an interest in gathering information for his topic. A smile and a helping hand would have gone a very long way to achieving his purpose, and also would have given a different, better impression of the service from the beginning.

On a personal note - Yay team!

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