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Help Desk Re-envisioned

Pierce County Library System, WA

Innovation Summary

Pierce County Library System created a one-stop service point for customers. Leveraging branch assistants and librarians, teams collaborate to provide a range of quality service at the desk and on the library floor, while realizing staffing efficiencies and providing increased opportunities for service to the public and enhanced customer experiences.

Problem Statement

By creating and supporting teams of customer-focused librarians and branch assistants, Pierce County Library System (PCLS) supports the ongoing learning and development of branch assistants to provide core library services, including reference and reader’s advisory services while developing the operational acumen of its librarians who are at times in charge of the building and overall service. Facing ongoing budget shortfalls and compelling opportunities to extend services outside the building, branch services restructured staffing. PCLS eliminated a classification of staff, emphasized the direct service responsibilities of branch assistants and created a staffing model designed to enhance customer service. The model reduces the number of librarians needed to staff desks, enabling greater opportunities for community outreach and the ability to conduct specialized programs to meet the needs of customers of all ages, emphasizing job seekers, military families, students, young children, readers, and online customers. Librarians have used these efficiencies to achieve significant results while maintaining a full range of branch programs and services. Branch assistants have developed their ability to engage and support customers in using the library and accessing its resources with librarians actively engaged both in providing direct library services and modeling how to provide reference and reader’s advisory services. Together, they practice the elegant handover when customers’ needs require expertise and skill beyond the staff member assisting a customer.


• Reference Triage Training for Branch Assistants was essential to support branch assistants in delivering the level of service required in this service model. The nine-week training, developed and taught by adult service librarians, engaged participants through classroom and online training as well as homework to develop skills in understanding customers’ questions and needs, using the catalog, collection and online resources to respond to inquiries. The course also included practical hands-on exercises and encouraged ongoing learning between librarians and branch assistants in their libraries. • Eliminating separate reference and youth service desks and locating a centralized service point to deliver service effectively to all customers. Multiple factors impacted the location of the desk including customers’ entrance into the library and points of service needs, the overall size of the library, theft, and effectiveness of self-service options. Identifying the essential activities to be conducted at the desk and the design to support the needs of customers accessing service while facilitating staff moving beyond the desk were essential in the design of the desk and the space. • Building cohesive, collaborative teams to provide wrap around services for customers is essential in fully realizing the opportunities of the service model. Without this commitment and ongoing engagement, staff could fall back into former patterns of providing segregated circulation or reference services from a centralized desk.


Primary outcomes are identified below. An external customer survey is planned for April 2013; a staff survey conducted in January 2013 reflects staff’s perceptions of success in achieving outcomes (95% survey participation rate for staff across all classifications). Customers find the help they need from staff working the Help Desk. Staff surveyed showed a 92% confidence that customers’ needs are being met “all of the time” or “most of the time.” Help Desk staff work effectively as a team to serve the customer, assisting and supporting one another in assisting customers with all types of inquiries. Staff surveyed stated effective teamwork is demonstrated 94% of the time “all of the time” or “most of the time.” Centralizing help on one desk has led to more efficient deployment of staff. Staffing efficiencies have been realized (40% improvement), but tempered by a number of factors requiring further work, including: Impact of covering staff absences; Account issues and DVD theft requiring more staff interaction; Staff concerns regarding the efficiency of using librarians to provide circulation and building management; Helping customers reluctant to access Help Desk staff; and Determining peak service needs and scheduling appropriately. The shift in how service is delivered on the floor of the library is requiring new strategies in delivering service and working collaboratively as a branch team while creating opportunities with existing staff to extend service. Much has been achieved; more will be accomplished as PCLS develops the model and methods to meet challenges identified in the survey.