Looking Inward to Create Better Patron Interactions

December 6, 2016 at 10:52 am | Posted in Awards and Recognition, Professional Development | Leave a comment

Rachel Lerner, Public Services Librarian at the Edward & Barbara Netter Library, Quinnipiac University wrote the following blog post.  Rachel also served as co-chair of the NAHSL 2016 Hospitality Committee.  She was instrumental in organizing the opening circus-themed reception, which included games, tattoos, balloons and the photo studio. I think we can all agree the opening NAHSL reception will not be forgotten! She did an awesome job!  Thank you, Rachel and congratulations on winning the Professional Development Award!


Looking Inward to Create Better Patron Interactions

Rachel Lerner, MSLS, Public Services Librarian

Edward & Barbara Netter Library, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT

Step right up ladies and gents, and please let me thank you for the generous award! I am so appreciative for the funding NAHSL provided, allowing me to attend the 2016 annual conference. Being part of the conference planning committee and a relative newcomer to the NAHSL community, I was privileged to come to know a wonderful group of librarians more personally during the process. I am grateful for these new friendships, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the speakers, presentations, posters, and networking time as much as I did!

susankbakerWhat struck me the most about the meeting – what I have spent the last five weeks contemplating – was Susan Keene Baker’s plenary talk. Broadly, Ms. Baker spoke on delivering superior customer service, both online and in person. She gave cogent examples using websites from our constituency, and led an interactive exercise that both allowed me to meet a NAHSL member I previously did not know and to discuss our respective customer service strengths and weaknesses. While all of this was informative and useful, Ms. Baker made one point that stuck with me:


 This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. As service providers, we see so many patrons that we can sometimes become jaded, fall into patterns, or assume that we know what a person wants before conducting a proper interview. It certainly happens to me, especially during peak student activity periods. Ms. Baker reminds us that while we might generally know what a person wants (and we should use that to guide a conversation), we should never make assumptions. Ms. Baker has repackaged (and rightly so!) the basic tenant of the reference interview. The conversation is about digging deeper than just finding out what the patron WANTS – it is about discovering what they NEED. Sometimes there is a disconnect between those two concepts, and assuming a patron’s needs without fully investing in a probing conversation will only lead to, at best, a stalemate, and at worst, a patron leaving with incorrect information and a bad experience. Ms. Baker’s talk was a stern reminder to this public services librarian about what it means to have a positive and meaningful reference interaction.rlerner

All this said, how can we remain mindful in our interactions with patrons? While I am sure that there are many studies to be cited in the library literature, as well as in the customer service, patient-centered care, and sales literature, I think that Ms. Baker might have given us the answer in her talk. All of the advice she offered on direct patron interactions serves to humanize the patron on the other side of the desk or the other side of the phone call, chat, or email. Simple things like repeating back the patron’s name, or giving your full name when you introduce yourself, or standing to greet your fellow human who is asking you for help, or being kind, especially if you are going to do the thing they asked regardless of your level of annoyance. The moment we remember that the problem patron is likely just a panicked person asking for help (even if they are doing it in the worst possible manner), we can put our annoyances aside, roll up our sleeves, and do our best to assist.

Thank you again for the award, and I hope to see everyone again next year!

Rachel Lerner, MSLS




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