I was at an outreach event a couple of months ago. It was a great event - a baby fair put on by a local hospital - and I spent the morning talking up our programs and services and handing out early literacy information. At the beginning of the year, my library entered into a reciprocal borrowing agreement with our neighboring counties and it felt so good to be able to say "Yes! You can check out materials from my library!" to everyone that stopped by my table.
It got me thinking about how much I love to say "Yes!" to patrons. Nothing makes me happier than exceeding their expectations and I think it's situations like that - situations where you can go above and beyond - that will preserve the future of the library.
Librarians know all the reasons that people should use the library. Free books! Free internet! Access to databases! Great programs! Librarians know, but the rest of the world has to be convinced. How do we convince them to use the library? By providing something they can't get anywhere else - an exceptional experience.
And one way to provide an exceptional experience is to say "Yes!" whenever possible. Join a reciprocal borrowing consortium, be flexible about policies whenever possible, and go the extra mile in every customer interaction.
Okay, I know there have to be rules. If there were no due dates, we'd never have books on the shelf. If you allow first graders to come to a program meant for fifth graders, you may find that no fifth graders are going to want to come. If we didn't limit internet time, the same handful of people might use the computers all day without letting anyone else on. I get that we need some restrictions.
What I'm not on board with are rules that are unnecessarily limiting or that exist "because we've always done it that way". Think about your policies. Is there sound reasoning behind all of them? When you have to say "No", can you justify it to a layman (not just to another librarian)? If you're having to enforce a policy very often, it makes me wonder if that policy is serving your patrons. Might you be able to say "Yes" more often if you tweaked the rules a little bit? Would that be worth it to create exceptional customer service?
When you go to a restaurant or a retail establishment and you run up against a restrictive policy ("No, you can't return that." "No, I can't make that substitution."), does it make you want to return? What if it happens a second time? The same can be said for negative transactions. I'll remember a negative experience with a store for just as long (maybe longer!) as I'll remember a really positive experience.
Think about the businesses you frequent. Why do you go back? I love my vet because she not only gives my cats good care while I'm there, but she follows up with me. I got a letter welcoming me to the practice after the first appointment we had and I was made to feel valued and respected. I will go back there. Can people say the same about your library?
How many times do you have to run up against an unnecessary policy before you give up and don't return?
I guarantee you that if your customers get exceptional service every time they're in the library, not only will they come back but they will tell their friends. Know what's even better? Exceptional customer service - going the extra mile, welcoming patrons with a smile - doesn't cost anything!
And in this economic climate, with budget cuts circling around us like sharks, we need all the help we can get.
Librarians, be easy. Learn to love to say "Yes" and you'll have learned how to keep your customers coming back for more.