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Online Patrons are Everyone’s Patrons

March 17, 2011

I could have titled this post any number of things, but it comes down to basic online customer service.  It’s easy to enact customer service initiatives aimed at patrons on the phone and in person, or even via instant/text messaging.  But let’s take a step back.  What about patrons who may not ever talk to a librarian?  That doesn’t mean that they don’t run into roadblocks when trying to navigate library resources.

It just means that they don’t tell anyone about it.

Why?

Because there’s a chance they aren’t part of your “traditional” service area.

I’m not talking about resources that come through a subscription that are only available remotely through library card authentication.  I’m talking about content created  by staff at a particular library and information about that library’s specific community.  I’m notorious for poking around websites for libraries that are thousands of miles away from me, but when I run into an unnecessary roadblock or I simply can’t find the information I want, I’ve learned not to send an e-mail or call.

First of all, I’m always nervous about calling people I don’t know.

Secondly, I have only e-mailed one library in the last year which responded to me within 24 hours.

Third, I generally want the answer right then and there.

So why haven’t these libraries implemented services such as Meebo or even Twitter to make their reference staff more accessible?  Are they waiting to hear more success stories about these services?  (Doing a quick Google search, the last article I can find on Meebo being used for instant reference is from 2009. How long does it take?!)  It’s not a cost thing – Meebo and Twitter are both free.  And I can’t believe that there are that many libraries and librarians who are still stodgy enough not to realize that their profession is on the brink of becoming as globally oriented as it is regionally.

I’m asking a lot of questions in this post, because I don’t know the answers.  I know that the library I work in does just fine with IM reference.  Part of me really hopes that in a year, we’ll have grown our Twitter presence to the point where we can implement reference via that medium as well.  So it’s possible, even for small systems or single libraries.  It’s totally possible, and it’s not nearly as hard as it seems.

And in a lot of ways, it’s the right thing to do in order to make resources (including human resources in the form of reference librarians) accessible to as many people as possible.

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