Innovation SummaryThe Sno-Isle Libraries “Book-A-Librarian” service takes personalized customer service to a new level, connecting customers with the Library's digital information and research experts through scheduled appointments. The customer becomes a client and receives exceptional, personal attention through a block of time with a library staff person, who serves as an informational consultant or tutor.
Problem StatementPublic interest in previously popular library classes waned during recent years. Aggressive marketing yielded only handfuls of customers showing up for classes on basic computer, internet, email and databases which in prior years had waiting lists. Instructors and library staff were stymied. Customer input told us there was still a demand for instruction, but various attempts to modify class offerings by changing time of day, day of the week, and length of the class resulted in the same results – no improvement.
Sno-Isle's Reference Services Committee evaluated declining enrollment, reviewed class schedules, topics offered, gathered library staff input, and researched alternative solutions. The effort resulted in a new approach in library customer service – offering consultant-level personal service and individual tutoring to address specific customer information needs. This approach took reference service to higher level, providing customers the opportunity to become clients through scheduled appointments with their own information expert. It also gave customers the opportunity to schedule the appointment at a mutually-convenient time.
“Book-A-Librarian” enables a customer to make an appointment and pursue a variety of needs with a librarian or designated staff member, including personalized tutoring on:
- Library catalog or electronic resources
- Basic internet and email
- Special research assistance with library resources
- Other assistance, identified by the customer and the librarian
This new service underwent a six-month beta-test at Sno-Isle's five largest and busiest libraries. Test results showed significant customer interest and positive staff adaptation to the one-on-one instruction model. Many staff, who had previously been unable to teach classes, were now scheduling themselves to work with customers. Staff reported that the new service model complemented their reference duties well. The Reference Committee then carefully extended the service model test to a six month test in smaller community libraries with results consistent with outcomes of the larger library test-group. Workload impact concerns were managed by tailoring Book-A-Librarian appointments to weekly staffing levels in smaller facilities. There was strong customer interest, smooth staff adoption of the model of service and strong interest from all libraries to move forward with implementation. Given consistently strong test results, the service model was fully implemented across all 21 community libraries.
This has been a transformational journey for Sno-Isle Libraries. We’ve learned that, when customers book time with us, they value our staff and time more. We also experienced significant increase in demand for the service when OverDrive announced its service for Kindle users.
“Book-A-Librarian” service customers come to know their library staff by name with consistently positive feedback about:
- Quality of instruction received
- Patience of staff
- Professionalism of staff “Book-A-Librarian” customers also tend to return as repeat customers either for in-depth assistance or to pursue a new topic.
We've also discovered they share their positive experiences with others, thereby leading to new customers. We have an online intake form for staff to complete to evaluate how often the service is used in each community library. It’s interesting to note that the service is as heavily used at our smallest libraries as our largest. In the first three months of 2012 there were nearly 300 Book-A-Librarian sessions at our libraries. And it’s become a marketing tool that we can use in every community to promote our staff expertise.