A Beautiful Cup, Customer Service, and an Update from the People's Library

I am home sick today, blargh! I spent the morning on the couch, knitting and watching The Adventures of Pete and Pete, but now that I am feeling a little bit better, it is time to be productive! The goal for today is to finish and submit my IRB so masters paper research can commence on schedule, draft cover letters for at least two jobs, and catch up on reading and slides that I missed by whimpering and on the couch instead of making it to class this morning.

First things first, this beautiful cup


One of my classmates just posted this on Facebook. I have long been considering getting a tattoo to commemorate either graduating with my MLS or my first library job out of school, but I hadn’t found anything suitable. The Dewey Decimal number for tea might be just the thing. Especially since I have way way way more mugs than a person could ever ever need, even if they were having the biggest tea party, and cannot justify purchasing this one. The number of mugs I have stashed around my apartment probably exceeds the legal occupancy limit. But there’s no such thing as too many tattoos!

The customer service thoughts are from a recent discussion in Archival Description about archive users. The users needs of people visiting archives are somewhat different than the user needs of library patrons. As mentioned before, libraries are cataloged on an item-by-item level, so even if the patron is overwhelmed, there is almost always some clearly marked path towards what they are looking for that a librarian can help navigate. Archive users do not always have this luxury; each item in archival collections (or fonds!) cannot be cataloged, so a finding aid is developed to provide some basic guidelines and suggestions of what the collection generally contains. This means successful archive users need either more agency, or more help from the archivist who may or may not have the time to provide assistance. I got the impression from several comments at this point in the discussion that there are archive users who need a lot of hand-holding, and that it can be a real strain. However, within a few minutes a classmate made what I think is an excellent point, that anyone who has ever held a job in retail or food services is not only familiar with but better prepared to deal with, let’s say, clingier users.

Up until recently, I was not all that thankful for the retail experience I have racked up over the years. It was honestly stressful not to have a library-related job my first year of school, and I was anxious to leave the retail world behind, although my most recent position had been a generally pleasant environment. My classmate is completely correct though; if you have good customer service training, difficult situations with customers and patrons go so. much. more. smoothly. You learn how to be patient and sympathetic (or at least how to convincingly feign sympathy) even when you want to abandon a frustrating interaction, and you learn how to graciously answer any question, or at least provide a partial answer as a stand-in while a more complete answer is retrieved.

One of the best customer service training tips I ever received was to imagine yourself in your work environment as if you were hosting a party in your home; you want people to feel comfortable and provided for without making them feel like you are a helicopter host who is overly concerned with their activity. There are certainly many ways to learn these skills, but good customer service training can come in handy no matter what environment you find yourself in. So, I am admitting, perhaps begrudgingly, that the years in retail have probably turned out to be worth all those hours on my feet, smiling permanently. It gets easier, and it is an important social skill to master.

Lastly, a mini update from the People’s Library! In order to prevent their collection from being destroyed yet again, they are going mobile and distributing their resources on carts placed throughout the city. I hope this works; it may be good for building their collection and the number of patrons, since no one will have to go down to Zucotti Park to donate/access resources, but I wonder how potential users will know where to find the book carts. Like many other people, I kind of got away from keeping up with the Occupy Librarians over Christmas. Our own Occupy movement in Chapel Hill has largely disbanded, and the news (even BoingBoing) hasn’t been covering anything Occupy as much lately. This is probably because of the election, but I really hope the Occupiers maintain their role as a whistling kettle–I think it’s made a difference, even if it is somewhat intangible. I’m also learning that the Occupy Librarians will be at ALA midwinter, which will probably be fascinating. One day I will make it to more conferences, but probably not until I have that first library job…

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