Why do people turn up to your library? The question sounds very simple and your answer may vary depending on the type of libraries you belong to. A very broad answer acceptable to one and all, irrespective of the type of libraries, would be that they come for ‘library and information services’ we provide. Organisations having developed a customer-centric culture, may disagree as the focus is on the product / service of the library rather than the benefits we provide to our users. Users turn to our libraries not for the books or information service we provide but for the value that they derive from the services and content of the libraries. We are used to the stereotyped image of the library whose basic business is to acquire, process (organise), store and make accessible (disseminate) library materials to its patrons. It is time now to shift the paradigm from the library operations to the customer.
The whole process of value addition begins with knowing exactly what our users want. Are our libraries in the information / knowledge business or in the learning / education business? Are we providing solutions to the problems of our readers or are we just providing a piece of information? Are our library services a means to an end or an end in itself? Answering these questions are equally critical in determining what the library core business is. There is obviously no ‘one-size-fits-all’ single business that defines all types of libraries. Each library differs somewhat with respect to its organisational culture, type, size and community it serves.
In order to add value to our services, one needs to first know who our customers are and what are their needs. If the question relating to determining who our customers and potential users are loooks fairly easy, assessing their needs requires much efforts. How to know about their needs? If we are sure we know their needs, it is excellent. We may align our services to match their needs. If we barely know or do not know at all what their needs are, then the simplest way is to ask our customers directly or indirectly. For this purpose, we may talk/ discuss with them, observe and analyse their information-seeking habits, analyse records of use of the library, administer questionnaires, conduct surveys, carry interviews or even desk researches to obtain the necessary data. The more we know about them, the better we can serve them.
The application of innovative technologies in the delivery of library services is another way to add value to our ‘offerings’. Today, no improvement of service can be conceived without the use of appropriate technologies. Innnovation is synonymous with new technologies. However, we need to always bear in mind that the technologies should empower the users and lead towards self-service, just creating some sort of disintermediation between the user and the library staff. This does not mean that the library staff no longer provide assistance to users, even if they require it! Librarians, know thy customers!