Friday, October 19, 2007

Article Note: On Expectancy Theory and Libraries

Citation for the article:

Lee, Seongsin. "Vroom's Expectancy Theory and the Public Library Customer Motivation Model." Library Review 56.9 (2007): 788-796.

Read via Emerald.

While this article is meant for public libraries, I think that it is very applicable to academic libraries as well. We need to understand what motivates our users to use our libraries in order to know what services to provide and how to best provide them. The bottom line of this article is that libraries need to demonstrate what makes them unique and valuable to those they serve. The patrons have to find value, and they also have to trust us. Remember that trust has to be earned.

  • "In other words, if public libraries cannot motivate customers to use their products and satisfy their needs, they may lose advantage over other information providers" (788). This is already happening to academic libraries as well. How often do we hear the moaning of how all students use is use Google? We need to be thinking how we can motivate our users so they will see us as their information provider. No, we are never going to compete toe to toe with Google. Our advantage is in the added value that we can provide when compared to Google or any other online search engine. The Effing Librarian made a good point on this when he said that "librarians understand that finding one million results might mean we found nothing related to the request. But the library customers (bless their little hearts), think that one million results are better, in every single way, than fifty results." You see, we bring the added value. We may not come up with the instant gratification, but we will often come up with quality results, and for a college student, that means the difference between quoting some cheap, less than reputable website and a good scholarly source on an academic paper. But we need to educate our students so they see the value in making the distinction.
  • A definition of marketing: "Workman (1999) defined marketing as 'the process of understanding what your customers want, and then designing and delivering products and services that fit those needs' (as cited in Woodward, 2005, p.130)" (789).
  • What we should be asking: "Therefore, the following question should be the primary question of marketing activities of an organization: how can we motivate customers to use our products?" (789)
  • Finding success in marketing: "In other words, successful service marketing rests on the ability of the service to deliver a solution to the customers' concern, or to deliver various benefits that the customers want" (792).
  • How customers evaluate: "Generally speaking, it is known that customers evaluate service quality based on five specific dimensions that can be applied to a variety of service contexts. These dimensions are 'reliability', 'responsiveness', 'assurance', 'empathy', and 'tangibles'" (793). I am also noting the definitions for further reference:
    • "Reliability is the ability of the organization to provide the promised service accurately" (793). Do you provide what you say you provide?
    • "Tangibles are physical elements of the services such as facilities, equipment, and personnel" (793). Now some libraries may not have the best facilities in the world. Funding is always a concern, and so is the issue of staffing. However, if you have only an average library in terms of facilities, but you still offer excellent service, I think you can make up for the shortfall on tangibles.
    • "Responsiveness is the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service" (793). Good library staff need to be responsive. However, this does not mean we simple bend over to provide every new trinket or some other unrealistic expectation. But it does mean we should be listening to patron needs and responding as needed within reason.
    • "Assurance is the employees' knowledge and courtesy and their ability to inspire trust and confidence" (793). In simple terms, we are professionals, and we need to behave and act accordingly. How can we expect others to take us seriously if we don't project the right image? And no, this does not have to do with your dress code (though in some cases, the image could be improved with better dress). We are to be knowledgeable, courteous and confident. This also goes along with being reliable.
    • "Empathy is the degree to which the organization treats customers as individuals" (793). I don't think this needs a whole lot of explanation. If you lack empathy, odds are you should be in some other line of work.
  • And this I just thought was a cool thing to remember: "The organization should recognize that every encounter with a customer is 'a moment of truth'" (794).
The article draws on Victor Vroom's expectancy theory. The theory is based on the ideas of valence, expectancy, and instrumentality. These are all consumer beliefs related to his/her perception of being able to get a result, to be able to act on the result once it is gotten, and whether it is worth it to pursue it or not in the first place. At least, that is my understanding. Overall, I am thinking that libraries need to make it as easy as possible (notice I throw in the "as possible." I am not expecting the impossible) to find what our patrons need and show that what is found is valuable. Here is an explanation from the article:

"In conclusion, if the customers confidently perceive that they can access library products through a virtual or physical visit of the library, if the products (book, e-book, online journal article, chat reference services, etc.) that they have found are the products that they were looking for, and if they think the library products have valence to satisfy their information needs, they will be motivated to use the library products frequently. However, if they perceive that there will be difficulties with access to products because they have not had any experience with library catalogs, or online searching, chat reference services, their motivational force to use library products will be very low" (791).

Notice that user perception is crucial here. The user does not have to experience any actual difficulty to access a product or service. They just have to perceive that the process is more difficult than it's worth for the system not to work. This is definitely something to think about, especially for those of us who are working to market our libraries to our academic communities. We need to help allay those fears. That is also part of where we add value to the products. Lee may be talking about public library users, but these are lessons to remember in an academic setting as well.

Notes for me:
  • Workman (1999) refers to:
    • Workman, J. (1999), "Marketing basics in a changing information age", Nebraska Library Association Quarterly, Vol. 30, Winter, pp.3-11.
  • Woodward, J. (2005) refers to:
    • Woodward, J. (2005), Creating the Customer-Driven Library, American Library Association, Chicago, IL. I actually read this book. See my note here.


The.Effing.Librarian said...

wow. I get quoted along with actual research stuff; that's cool. thanks.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

You are very much welcome. I do really enjoy reading your blog. It is becoming a "must read" for me. Best and keep on blogging.