Wednesday, May 03, 2006

TLA Conference Notes, Day 2: Session on Libraries and Retail

Session title: "Library as Retailer"
Presenter: Kerry Bruce McGeath, Director, Southlake Public Library

I went to this presentation on the advice of our Web Librarian, who if I recall correctly, mentioned he knew the presenter. At any rate, he was confident it would be a good paper, and that was good enough for me to go. It was interesting indeed for what we can learn in libraries and how some principles of retail may work for libraries.

There are three basic components to retail:
  • Product: Do you have the right product? Is it well positioned?
  • Customer service: How to wait on your customers?
  • Marketing: Note that one needs to have the previous two done well before doing this. If you do not take care of the first two, this won't matter.
In retail, you always need to go through a process of review in terms of product and service. If a product does not sell, you would remove it, maybe try something else. Libraries should be doing this as well.

PAR=Plan, Act, Review. Retail needs to do this continually. Need to adjust to customer needs. Libraries should do this as well, even if they "don't go out of business" (at least in the way a business would go under if they don't sell well. Libraries can, however, lose their funding when seen as less than valuable, and thus close).

A good salesperson will greet the customer on arrival. They find out what the customer needs. This is what a librarian does (or should be doing) in a reference interview.
  • Idea: Have everyone in the library be prepared to answer very basic questions. Patrons can't usually tell who is a librarian and who is not. They have a need that needs to be met. Circulation staff are often the first or most prominent contact point in the library. Can see circulation staff as your customer service representatives.
  • Idea: Less signs, to get people to interact with the staff. Also, staff should be willing/able/ready to leave the desk (circulation as well as reference).
Customers are the most important element. Never be complacent about customer service. Don't want people to come in because they "have to" (think of going to a place like the Department of Motor Vehicles or other unpleasant government place where you "have to go."). The library may be a government agency (often, public librarians are city or county workers), but it does not mean the library has to behave like a government agency. We have to provide great service.

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