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Reaching Small Businesses Just in Time

By Kim Gile, Community Reference Manager, Kansas City Public Library

Kim Gile

In the world of inventory management, there are two different strategies of delivery. One is “just in case,” which is designed for unpredictable demand, so you have stock at the ready always. Another is the “just in time” method, which involves ordering stock on demand. In this case, you have very little or no inventory on hand.

These two models have practical applications for many industries outside of inventory management, and library service is no exception. Traditionally, libraries use the “just in case” model when we staff our buildings. We always have people in the building, waiting for patrons to come to us with their questions. However, the business community doesn’t work well with this traditional service model. We must meet them where they are, just in time.

We must meet [the business community] where they are, just in time.

With a “just in time” model of service for business librarians, we leave our service points behind and stop waiting for people to come to us. We go out to coworking spaces and proactively seek out when and where local professionals spend their time, so we can be there for them.

We know that we need staff in libraries to keep them running and open to the public. What the ULC Entrepreneurship Learning Cohort helped us embrace is that our buildings often do not need to be staffed with librarian-level professionals. Most of the questions we receive now are directional (“where is the bathroom?”) or basic transactions (“will you renew my books?”). From a managerial and financial standpoint, we can save money by having non-librarians staff service points and having librarians (or equivalents) out engaging the community.

People don’t come to libraries with traditional reference questions anymore, and we should adjust our staffing models accordingly.

It is important to note that the staff members helping patrons inside of the library’s walls every day are not of lesser value. To the contrary, they are of paramount importance, acting as they are the face of the library, and we must invest in them. But public library traffic is changing. People don’t come to libraries with traditional reference questions anymore, and we should adjust our staffing models accordingly.

This new service model also requires that we hire differently. It is not always the case that someone who would be fantastic at staffing a service point would be fantastic at making a presentation to a group of small business owners or at networking at an early morning coffee event. Take the time to look at your job descriptions for your “just in time” librarians and make sure they bring the right skillsets to the table.

Kim Gile is the community reference manager at the Kansas City Public Library. Kim has worked in urban and suburban public libraries since 2001. Her work has been recognized by the Urban Libraries Council via two Top Innovator Awards (2011 and 2013) and one Honorable Mention (2018).