Well I’ve finished Learning 2.0 and I’m going to try and post semi-regularly (unlike Zoya who is posting daily).
This post is actually going to be along the same lines as what Zoya has been posting this week on her blog Zoyasstuff, it is going to be about getting patrons to serve themselves instead of being chained to us.
At Sydenham Library we have implemented self-check units so that patrons can issue items to themselves. This isn’t a new concept, I’ve worked with them at a few libraries (from Narre Warren library where it was a computer in the line at the circulation desk and people had to queue past it, to a private library in Sydney which is unstaffed and had 100% self checkouts). What seems to be the new concept is moving away from the idea of forcing our customers to come to us to be served. Staff seem to be very resistant to this. And it’s not that they’re resistant to self-checkout, they’re resistant to making the customers use it at the cost of using us.
I see both sides of the argument. I’ve worked in customer service. I liked working in customer service. In fact I take pride on the fact that I can converse with pretty much anyone whilst working in a library (apart from Evil Gypsy Woman of course).
Arguments against forcing patrons to do self-checkout.
– Not everyone wants to do it. Some people are very resistant to the technology and would rather go to the desk. Some just would like a chat.
– We lose the personal touch of physically eyeballing all of our patrons.
– The technology doesn’t always work.
Arguments for forcing patrons to do self-checkout.
– It reduces queues. It is cheaper to have 6 self-checkout machines than 6 staff members. In fact, it’s cheaper to have 6 self-checkout machines for a year than 3 staff members.
– It gives people more autonomy in what they are borrowing. Although we encourage people to borrow anything, how many people really want a librarian seeing that they are borrowing a book on erectile dysfunction or divorce?
– The staff are not always as approachable as we make ourselves out to be.
See, my three points play off against each other.
Not everyone wants to do it, but most people don’t want queues. We lost the personal touch but people don’t always want that (and I’ll comment on the personal thing below). The technology doesn’t always work but, then again, neither do the staff.
With the personal touch thing (which, personally, I think is the biggest issue with forcing people to do self check), this can be acheived in other ways. Staff who are not forced to sit at a desk and wait for people to come to them can be utilised in other ways. Firstly, station someone near the self-check machines to talk to people as they use them. It is like the idea of a ‘library greeter’, someone whose job is to greet people as they enter the library and direct them to places, except that this person would be able to deal with the machines not working and take money for fines. Also, if someone wanted a staff member to issue their items for them, they can walk to the self-check machine and do that.
Why not roster staff to monitor different areas of the library? Instead of being at a desk, staff could wander around offering help to people who look lost and just generally talk to people (it looks like you’re borrowing A Wizard of Earthsea, did you know she has a new book out?). We’d have to teach staff to do this well, we don’t want them harrassing people! Also, to make staff approachable in this way (and to differentiate them from customers), we’d need some kind of uniform.
Also, just so people know it does work, the private library I mentioned above is in a member’s only club in Sydney. The library is open 24 hours a day and is unstaffed. Most of the members are men aged 50+ and are resistant to using computers. Previously the members wrote their membership number and the number of the book in a little booklet and this was used to ensure everyone returned their books. When they went to using a self-checkout system, there was quite a bit of resistance but, after a while, the members saw the benefits of simply scanning a barcode (much easier than writing it in all honesty). Although there are some members who would rather the good old days, in general takeup was good and it did wonders for advertising the library to the rest of the members (look at the wonderful things they are doing, come have a look at their resources, etc etc etc).
There, I think I’ve written enough for today. Comments are appreciated, like Zoya, I like hearing everyone’s opinion.