I wrote this waaay back in 2005 in response to a call for what we needed to improve in the interest of the “future of reference services”. I edited out a few specific references to my library, but dang, I still feel we need to address everything I wrote:
Before we move forward, we should take a look at where we are now.
Promotion of existing services, databases, materials, equipment.
We need to promote what we have. The general public still has a vague idea of what libraries have to offer. We need to target our strengths and promote them tirelessly in as many venues as possible. We need to study our current users and what they use most and promote those things to the larger populace. We need to study what the most typical information needs are of those who come in after “not having been in a library for years” and promote those things. We need to find out what we offer that our customers don’t find anywhere else, promote that and offer more of it.
Interpreting the library catalog for current and new users
We need to do a much better job of interpreting our online catalog. It is not friendly to new users. Customers have ongoing problems seeing that an item is in at the branch, deciphering which branch does have the item, and telling which collection or shelf the item might be filed in.
Partially because we do not use the same interface to the catalog as our users, we are often not familiar with it and are not able to help them effectively. When changes are made to the customer user interface we are often unaware of it until the customer asks for help.
How responsive are we to these difficulties? Do we provide tipsheets to the catalog? Do we try to address in a timely manner problems the public encounters? Why are many of the search mechanisms in the public catalog not useful? How can these things be improved?
On the Web
Everything we do needs to be on our web page in an accessible and attractive format. We need to offer tutorials and tip sheets on our pages for using the library catalog, the electronic resources, and frequently asked questions from the public using our Internets and Word Processors. We need to offer Mouse Practice or links to Mouse Practice sites.
We need forums for public feedback, or places on the page for discussion and/or reviews of books,movies and CD’s by staff and the public. It needs to be alive and interactive.
The library web pages should reflect the communities in our area. You should be able to get a good snapshot of the county and what it has to offer from the library page. Perhaps each community library needs a page to help break it down into smaller segments. Education, entertainment, local government should all be reflected.
We need far more Reader’s Advisory on the web. If you like…. Lists need to be added.
The people behind the public service desks are the library to most people. Our past ratings show appreciation for our service efforts. One of the things we offer that is getting increasingly hard to find anywhere is good service. We need to make sure we are there to answer questions of all types, and to make people of all ages feel welcome. We need to be there to interpret our catalog, act as a guide to our large collections, give advice on Internet searching, help with basic Microsoft office and the various information storage devices.
What we offer gets more complex every year, and we are in a unique position to make sure the public gets the most out of what we can give. We need to find ways to work with other organizations in the community such as schools, businesses, citizen organizations, literacy groups, social groups. We need to know our community well and be able to refer our customers to other groups who might provide services we don’t offer.