In quite a good post on blogging post the Google Health/Sicko Ad debacle, Matt Cutts posted a long article on his blog about the rules of blogging–one of which was don’t blog when you are mad. A very good point, indeed, as were all his others. Luckily, I am not exactly mad–just finally experiencing poor customer service in a library and really having it hit home what it means.
I live in pretty small town America. Okay, miniature town American might be a more apt description. Even though my town is small, the public library here is wonderful–beyond my wildest hopes wonderful. The building is large, new, and inviting; there is free wireless; and there is no shortage of good books available–when I lived in big city America not too long ago, I generally couldn’t hope to check out a book that I was looking for without reserving it, whereas here, I have a fighting chance. Being a library-type person, and finally going back to my public library after what was basically years of relying on academic libraries and bookstores, I was pretty happy to stumble across this library.
I have a long-ish history of working in academic or generally liberal environments. My current position was the first in which I had any kind of internet censorship imposed upon me whatsoever, and generally, when I complain, the sites I want get quickly unblocked. But, I know that a lot of libraries, particularly hospital libraries and public libraries, have their internet censored or restricted. Which is bad. 🙂
Anyway, so here is my story… A few Saturdays ago, while the sig. other was busy sleeping and I was busy getting really bored waiting for him to get up, I decided to go to the library and the local coffee shop without him. The library was pretty dead–there were maybe 2 kids there, and no one was using any of the computers. So I went to browse the shelves I normally pick through, and sadly couldn’t find the books I was looking for, partially because I couldn’t remember any of the titles/authors (yes, I am one of those people…). I decided to look them up to see if I was just missing them, so I headed to the computer bank.
The computers were all set up as such that you had to sign up to use them by presenting ID at the desk. Well, there wasn’t anyone at the desk, and frankly, I didn’t really see the need to go through that kind of hassle for looking up a book in the OPAC. So, I decided to use the stand-up library-databases-only computer (which was loaded with Firefox and nothing else, as far as I could tell). Anyway, I looked up one book (checked out–sigh) and then decided to try for some others. One of my friends had sent me a huge list of books that she recommended (she is a librarian, too, surprise) in Facebook, so I opened up a new tab and tried to get into Facebook. It was blocked due to inappropriate content, so said the screen.
Then, I tried Gmail, as I had sent myself an email to remind myself of what books to get. Gmail was blocked, too, this time because it wasn’t a “library resource.” Now, I know full well that I was using a library databases-only computer, but since I needed to get into Gmail and/or Facebook in order to USE those library databases, I was rather annoyed. And I still have no intention of giving over my driver’s license to use a computer. This was frustrating. I did find it amusing that the home page of the Firefox browser went to a 404 error page (I kindly changed it for them so that it would actually start at the OPAC instead of an error page). I ended up having to go home to place holds on all the books I wanted.
Today, I had reason to return a DVD I had borrowed. It was too scratched for my DVD player to read, so I dutifully took it to the desk when returning it so that they could note it before returning it to the library from whence it came. The staff person first kind of blew me off when I came up to her, and then when I did speak up and told her about the problem, she told me there was nothing she could do about it without even looking at me. I was a little taken aback, but I quickly said that I understood, but that I thought they should alert the library that it had come from so they could fix it or withdraw it. She got a little prickly with me at that point, and said nothing, but did write out a note. I was still waiting there without being acknowledged, basically, so I said that I had something on hold for me, and then she got quite prickly indeed, and told me I’d have to wait. So I did. And, when she got my reserve item for me, I thanked her.
This whole experience really brought home to me how very small things really make a difference. Now, I will go back to the library, and I will continue to support the library, but honestly, if I wasn’t a diehard library fanatic, these experiences really could have turned me off permanently. They are so small (a blocked web site, a refusal on my part to follow the “rules” when there were no patrons waiting for computers, being treated slightly rudely), but they really make a difference. I doubt I’ll ever see the library in quite the same light. And so I hope that the small things I do in my library, purposefully or inadvertently, don’t drive my patrons away. No one is perfect, and I know that I have days where I am less than pleasant, or less than approachable (due to stress, migraines, busyness, or whatever), so I know that I have probably driven patrons away, maybe without even realizing it. So maybe, now, I will be more careful. One can only try.
Maybe it is a small town thing. The coffee shop that I went to recently changed ownership, and since it did, I have basically found it to be so unreliable as to nearly have lost my custom. And, let me tell you, I WANT to spend my money there. (Or I did.) Since the new owner has taken over, it sometimes closes early or opens late, takes over an hour to get food or doesn’t have food available at all, and went from being overly, small-town, oppressive friendly to making you feel like you are a criminal for ordering anything. But, I still go back because it is the only coffee around that isn’t from a convenience store. And, it USED to be good. There is still that lingering memory. How many more times will I go back before I give up on it completely? Not that many, is my guess. As much as I loathe the corporate style of running libraries, good customer service and making things work for customers really makes a huge difference, even if it is something really small.