Access Services 2.0

January 12, 2007

You knew it was coming….

In the entry for Library 2.0 the Wikipedia states:

“With Library 2.0, library services are frequently evaluated and updated to meet the changing needs of library users. Library 2.0 also calls for libraries to encourage user participation and feedback in the development and maintaining of library services. The active and empowered library user is a significant component of Library 2.0. With information and ideas flowing in both directions – from the library to the user and from the user to the library – library services have the ability to evolve and improve on a constant and rapid basis. The user is participant, co-creator, builder and consultant – whether the product is virtual or physical.”

Call me crazy, but this sounds a lot like what we do in access services every day. I admit, I am completely biased in my opinion for I truly love working in access services, so my feelings may seem extremely strong. I believe that the access services department is the public face of the library. We are sitting right there at that big desk when you walk in the doors. We are usually the first library staff you notice and typically answer a patron’s first round of questions.

So can access services be included in Library 2.0? This is an interesting question that I have thought about for a long time. 99% of our interactions with patrons are transactional or directional. We check books in and out, we get LL materials, we direct patrons to the bathrooms, photocopiers or reference desk. The remaining .1% is slightly more involved than a transaction – we instruct patrons in how to lookup reserve materials or a book’s call number in the OPAC, we’ll show patrons how to access electronic reserves materials, we answer questions about authenticating into the library network, etc. Those types of interactions take a bit longer than a simple checking out of materials, but unlike reference interactions that can continue over lengthy periods of time (whether it is a term paper, or a research project over a semester), there seems to be a definitive start and end to our experiences.

To simplify it, we are a customer service desk. We handle questions and complaints all day and all night. If something goes wrong it is usually immediately apparent. In a lot of ways, how well we are doing our jobs can be gauged very simply. Go up into the stacks – is there a huge backlog of shelving? Is the director receiving complaints of rudeness? Is it taking three months for you to get that book you ordered through ILL? Sure we collect all sorts of fun statistics to illustrate what we do and how well we are doing it, but really, if a patron has a complaint it will get voiced.

So how does this fit into the 2.0 concept? Well, I can’t think of a better place where user feedback and participation is used to improve library services. We hear about all sorts of problems at the circ/reserves desk. The ones we can fix, we do. The ones that require a little more effort or another department, we pass along or work together for change and improvement. The reward is that a lot of times the improvement or change in service is immediately apparent and we get instant feedback. Since we’re the public face we have a built-in feedback loop. People have no problem expressing their anger or disapointment with a service or policy. One of the nice things I have discovered in working in access services is that most people also don’t have a problem expressing gratitude or happiness with an improvement or change.

I think a lot about the tools of Library 2.0 (IM, wikis, blogs, podcasts) and I try to think of ways that we could integrate them into our work. It is hard to find a way to utilize web-based tools when so much of our work requires us to physically be on the move. We run around shelving books, retrieving them from book drops and then checking them in, checking materials out, processing ILL materials. It is hard to find chunks of time where we can sit in front of a computer and play with the technology. Don’t get me wrong, we have our down times when the desk is quiet, but usually when that happens we catch up on shelving, scanning reserve materials, or repairing damaged books.

At a recent meeting, some of my staff expressed an interest in using IM internally to help answer questions at the desk. For example if someone comes to the circulation desk with a question about their ILLiad profile, the circulation clerk could IM someone downstairs in the ILL office and get a quick answer for the patron. This sounds like a great idea, yet I wonder if picking up the phone and calling would be quicker? I do see the advantage to having an internal department wiki where we can house all of the knowledge that our large staff posesses, but how could we benefit from one that is open to the public?  Isn’t it easier to just call, walk-in or email a complaint?

So if Library 2.0 is built mainly upon the idea of building community through positive and meaningful interactions with users, then I think we have been doing this in access services forever. We may not need all the spanky tools, but I think we are masters at the concept.

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