We attended a workshop at WNYLRC on September 9, 2016 on You Can’t Teach Nice by Amanda E. Perrine from Syracuse University. I first heard about this topic at the New York State Library Assistants’ Association (NYSLAA) conference in Corning last June. An attendee from the Rochester area gave a report at the town meeting on workshops RRLC had given for library assistants during the previous year. Amanda’s workshop was one of them and it sounded interesting. As Conference Coordinator for NYSLAA, I contacted her about presenting it at the 2016 NYSLAA conference which will be at Chautauqua Institution. She agreed to present. Shortly after, I saw that she was going to present it for WNYLRC and we decided to attend.
Amanda started by showing an example of poor library customer service she had encountered that made her not want to ask for help again. The librarian did not acknowledge her presence for several minutes after she approached the desk. Then she related many policies from retail businesses that conveyed how they properly treat their customers. She reminded us that most library patrons believe that if you work in a library, you are a librarian and should be able to provide them an answer. One of the most important things in helping the patron is the first impression. Greet everyone with a smile and a welcome, which means stopping what you are working on at the desk. The first 15 seconds will set the tone for the encounter. She talked about the physical space too. Does your desk give a welcoming feeling to the patrons? If not, is there something simple you can do to create that feeling? Is your signage clear and large enough to catch the eye of the patron? Make sure your staff understands the library’s policies and empower the staff to enforce or make small exceptions without having to seek out someone higher. Upsell when you can. If a patron is inquiring about an author, if you can,say “If you like this author you might also enjoy reading this.” Ask the patron’s name and use it during the encounter if appropriate.
Amanda’s bottom line was, you can’t teach nice, it is a personality trait. You can train your staff to treat patrons with courtesy and respect.
Ruth V. Oberg
Carrie E. Goetz
University at Buffalo