Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I was at a staff day recently. Staff day is a day where the Library closes, which is cruel to the community. What are they supposed to do, buy this stuff? Even as a lover of literature I am aware there are only about 15 things in our collection worth paying retail for. As for us, the staff, we get a decent breakfast and a very bad box lunch and theoretically learn new things at breakout sessions. The Staff Day before this was the worst in a long time because it was all about our mission, which meant we had to spend the whole day pretending we were talking about something. So I feared for this recent one, but it was okay. The featured part was about User Experience, which has to do mainly with thinking about what it's like for the people who use us, visit us, interact with us, to actually do so. Anyway, there was this one part where we broke into groups and did this mapping thing, where we imagined a Patron's visit from their perspective, mapping where they went and how it was for them. The interesting thing was every group imagined the patron having a largely miserable time. We didn't have the tax form they needed, they owed money, they couldn't get a library card, they didn't know where to go. I am dimly aware that most people who come to the Library have a pretty good time, they find some movies or books to check out or get a passable espresso and run into a neighbor to chat with, or play that game on the computer where you shoot colored balls up at other colored balls for 6 or 7 hours. So it made me wonder what was going on with us. Partly I think we were looking for problems. We were trying to be constructive. Mapping a hypothetical user efficiently getting a card and scoring a free copy of Argo doesn't give us anything to improve, and so imagining difficulties is about self-improvement. Partly I think the clerk's experience of difficulty looms larger to them. It is harder and takes longer. Add to this the fact that patrons generally come to us if they need something, can't find something or can't figure out something, and it makes the problems of their experience loom larger to us when we imagine it. But I think the main thing is that a large part of customer service involves the repression of anger and resentment. There is the part where management can tell us what to do and often we have to do it whether we want to or not, and there is the part where patrons can be rude or hostile to us, sometimes unjustifiably, sometimes in a way that borders on deranged, and we have to be reasonably polite about it. These feelings can't just be absorbed into the bloodstream and expiated through simple breathing. A clerk (I was going to say good clerk, but it is any clerk) has to find a way to offload, expiate, purge all this feeling. These things are volatile and will not go unattended. So when we were given the opportunity to drive, imagine, follow a sort of paper doll of a patron in a hypothetical journey through the library under our control, we immediately commenced to stick pins in the doll. It wasn't so much "What is a random users experience of our Library?" as "What unpleasant daily occurrence of our library can we have happen to our hypothetical patron now? Mu ha ha ha." I think people enjoyed it pretty well.