Monday, January 3, 2011

Library work as performance - without the applause

This blog is about exploring ideas in public.  They are ideas and thoughts in development and maybe a few rants as well.

In a recent episode of Dr Who, the doctor said
“In 900 years of travelling time and space I have never met anyone who isn’t important”. 
The doctor is right.  This idea is critical for how we treat our library customers.  Are they important?  Yes.  This should influence our behaviour, but it doesn’t always.  We may be having a bad day, they may seem annoying, there are many reasons we may be less than amazing in our customer service.  These factors should not matter because each person who uses our library space and resources, whether online or by coming through the doors, is important, and we need to show that we appreciate this.  It is something to aim for at least.

Staff at Cerritos Library refer to any time they are in the public area as “being on stage”. This terminology is helpful, as being in the public area is a public performance, and it really is any time they are in the space, not just when they are rostered to a service point.  You may not receive applause for a brilliantly assisted reference query, for amazing cataloguing, the creation and maintenance of an easy to use and fun website, great metadata, or for an incredible piece of technology assistance, but you are still performing.  You are on stage, but in a very flexible performance which continues to develop through improvisation – yours and others.  The performance is complex as part of it is how your library is accessible online, how and what items are selected and made accessible, and how public spaces and activities are managed.  Are they managed for the audience/the clients/patrons/readers or are they managed to suit the performers (the library staff)?  Some theatre companies manage their performances to suit the actors and the other workers on the production, and it shows.  The performances are not as interesting and the attitude to the audience is not very positive, you are just there to observe their brilliance (even if they are not being brilliant).  Other theatre companies work at making the audience experience the centre of the performance.   Much music performance also has this kind of approach which leads to a much more satisfactory experience of a performance. 

Even very famous actors, dancers and musicians can become complacent which delivers wooden performances (they look and sounds bored), and should be avoided.  These are warnings for us in our work in libraries.  We should be client focused so that our libraries can be client focused, and we should not be wooden in our delivery of the available services.  This includes in library design, collection management and access, online access and hours.

Next time you are any kind of performance (music, theatre, dance…and it may be interactive, you may the one singing or dancing) think about how it relates to your work in a library.  What elements of the performance were effective for you?  Which could have been improved?  Think about the whole experience including the bar staff.   If you had to hand you bag over to be minded, do they make you feel like a criminal or like they were being helpful?

What can you learn about this in terms of customer service for your library?  How can you stay enthusiastic all the time?  How can you help other library staff become and stay enthusiastic?

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