When I tell people I am a librarian, I often get various responses. One is, “You don’t look like a librarian,” as if they anticipated a shushing, grimacing battleaxe. The other response I get is, “Do people still go to the library?” Both questions, while annoying, encourage me in my pursuit of offering top notch customer service in my library to deflate that stereotype and encourage patron usage. Therefore, it is my goal to assist every guest who walks through the library door with the same friendly, quality customer service.
When I am introduced to new students or touring families, I emphasize that I will ALWAYS help them and that our library is a place they can utilize anytime. I express that I LIKE to help them, that is my job and it makes me happy. While I truly enjoy working with my students, I also perceive that everyone at my school is responsible for recruitment and retention of students, and my job depends on enrollment. I am on the lookout for students who need help, and if they don’t ask, I ask them. I thank them for coming, because truly, without their patronage, I am irrelevant. I became an educator because I like working with students.
I believe it is crucial that I know my patrons, and if possible I find out what they like to read. I have an office, but I never use it; I sit at the circulation desk where I am visible and approachable. I greet visitors with eye contact, a smile, and by name. My “superpower” is learning student names. The greeting and the smile go a long way; I have had students and alumni tell me how much it meant to them to be cheerfully welcomed to the space every day. This creates, through word of mouth, an understanding that our school library is a safe and welcoming place and as a result we accrue more patrons.
I have had to train my aide to “take the extra step” in terms of patron support. I had a similar experience with another librarian colleague I worked with at a different school who expressed that I was “too nice.” I don’t think I am doing permanent academic damage to a student if I lead him/her to Shakespeare’s plays, or grab A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the student, as opposed to writing down the card catalog number and sending them on their way. For one, I think the student will more likely remember the positive service than how the Dewey Decimal System classifies drama. I also think teens and tweens are often overwhelmed, and I typically give them the benefit of the doubt. The sullen teen can usually be won over with respect, courtesy and friendliness; it’s important to realize that we never really know what is happening in their lives. I think about my own experiences as a customer, and how perturbed I get when an employee at a hardware store expects me to find an Allen wrench hex key when I have no idea what it is or what it’s for. Similarly, I am not too happy when employees at my favorite grocery store ignore me while they engage in casual conversation. I try to put the student first – and address their needs even if I am mid task or have been talking with staff members. I get a little bit unhinged when teachers arrive to pick up their class from the library, but instead engage in small talk leaving their students to become more and more boisterous, which is only to be expected.
It’s important to “keep up appearances.” It’s a lot of work, but I’ve made the holiday tree of books several times with hundreds of books and strands and strands of lights. We have book art, rotating displays, interactive bulletin boards, lights and whatever else I can dream up, steal from other libraries or find on Pinterest to make the space inviting and fun. Our comfortable seating and manipulatives have been limited because of Covid-19, but we are adjusting. Contests as well as a no fine policy have also promoted good will and increased usage in the library.
Every interaction matters. According to Anthony Molaro, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Business and Professional Studies at St. Catherine University, “A worldview that sees library users as patrons is one in which the patron is above libraries. According to this worldview, we should feel lucky that they support our work, and we are forever indebted to them. Some people call this term archaic, while others have no idea what a library patron even is. In the end, the perception is that the patron is above us.”
Especially at independent schools, where tuition can be incredibly high, customer service makes all the difference in creating relationships between staff, students and families. It should be a priority for all library staff.
“Information Activist.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 5, Mar. 2011, p. 50. EBSCOhost,
Pundsack, Karen. “Customer or Patrons? How You Look at Your Users. Affects Customer Service.” Public Libraries Online, Mar. 2015,