Sunday, July 05, 2009

Library Help, IT Help

I got into an interesting discussion with a colleague recently about those signs we often see in commons environments: library help arrow this way, IT help arrow that way, even though both staff are sitting side-by-side at the same desk. You might as well draw a line down the floor. I could have used a photo to illustrate, but I didn't want to pick on anyone in particular.

Now tell me, why do we do this? Why do we make our user make a choice? Library patron: "Let's see, I'm having trouble using a library database but that might be because I've been having problems with my laptop. So do I go to the IT side or the library side? Gee, I sure don't want to look stupid so maybe I shouldn't go up to the desk at all."

Is it really that hard for us to hand off a question? I like to think we've got the art of handing off questions nailed in the Hub. Friendly staff member: "Oh sure, sounds like it might be an issue with your account. I bet Stacey here can help you with that when she's finished with a chat. So what do you think of our new coach?"

I have been opposed to those signs for quite some time. Admittedly, we did have one for a short time, but I quietly removed it. Both our IT and library staff sit under a giant Help sign with no differentiation. We should diagnose the problem and get our user to the expert, rather than make our user second-guess themselves. Let's make getting help as easy as possible for our users, not for us.

Photo by Alice Wasielewski


datamuse said...

Funny you should bring this up; we just separated reference from IT help after having them at the same service point for several years. Not because handing off wasn't working, but because the vast majority of the questions we were getting had to do with the computers. When people had reference questions they often took them to the circulation desk instead. So we've moved over there. The way I see it, if our library's patrons have this idea that library stuff is over here, IT stuff is over there, why not go with that? (We don't have service-specific signs, either.)

The more I read about and think over this kind of question, the more I think it's highly situational; it really depends on the space you're working in, and it's going to be different for different library settings.

Stacey Greenwell said...

I agree that it is highly situational. If splitting these services works better for your clientele, great!

It really does bother me to see supposedly "shared" desks that have lots of signs pointing you one way or another.

As a patron, it's so much simpler if I can just walk up and get what I need. I don't want to spend time trying to decide which person I need to ask. (This reminds me of my new bank--inevitably I go to the wrong desk for something simple like changing my phone number and end up waiting in two different lines. Sigh.)

As a librarian, when I see lots of signs, queueing ropes, etc. I have to wonder what kind of working relationship those at the "shared" desk must have. I hope it isn't a "my clients, your clients" kind of thing.