Changing Roles of the Customer for Service Innovations in Libraries

Libraries are in the midst of a technological revolution: from acquiring prints to providing electronic access and eventually moving towards the virtual (digital) library, they are operating a paradigm shift from availability of library materials (locally) to accessibility of information from remote places. This shift is bringing a complete metamorphosis of libraries, which are subject to an ongoing change. One of the fundamental rules of business is to be led by demand of the market. Library services go beyond this demand-oriented provision of services and are eventually more user-centric than book-centric. More and more libraries in the developed countries are employing innovative methods to rethink and reshape services in order to remain relevant and keep close to their patrons. Feedback on all aspects of services, inputs and contributions from the customers are the major and useful elements that are considered for service innovations in libraries overseas. The mutual understanding of the customers’ needs and wishes as well as the technological opportunities are highly valued and used for the service development which, consequently, brings a constant change in the role of customers in the innovation process.

The Roskilde University Library (RUB) in Copenhagen, Denmark applies a systematic approach to involve customers in the service innovations. The management team is alert to the changes taking place and has defined three major roles of the customer while involving their contributions in the innovation process.

1. Customer as a resource. The RUB uses several techniques to involve customers in the design of library and information services: surveys, suggestion box and feedback in order to know the level of satisfaction of customers with services experienced, library facilities and new changes. A praise/complaint box also contains the ongoing comments of customers about the everyday use of the library, reference or consultation services. New ideas from information literacy training sessions furthermore help the management at the RUB to gain an insight of the customers’ perspective and explain their reactions. Thus, the RUB collects ideas and inputs both in a formal and informal way to evaluate the everyday practice and include the suggestions of the customers for service innovations.

2. Customer as co-creator. The customers are co-creators along with the library management team when they help develop new types of services and provide part of the content. The RUB launched an electronic service where the customers wrote recommendations or reviews on library materials. The Web 2.0 and social networking has besides given room to user-generated content, which the management utilize positively. What’s more, the inputs of the customers as co-creators allowing them to be integrated during the creation of new services have brought a welcomed change.  This has changed the passive user to become an active participator in the successful creation of new services in the library.

3. Customer as a user. The customers are users when they are invited to use the newly introduced services whereby the RUB management team encourages their feedback or criticism for evaluation. The RUB team also uses observation techniques and directly approaches the users to find out the barriers and difficulties that they face while using new services. Interactive chat sessions like ‘chat with the Librarian’ give more information which help the management to solve issues, to improve the service or even stop any problematic system in the aim to reach out and stay close to an important number of customers.

The RUB gives an important outline of the involvement of the customers and management practices for service innovations in the library. This example of user-driven library services may serve as a model and may well suit the local community. Allowing customers to become part of and contribute actively in the innovation process would assist the management in the satisfactory provision of library and information services to users.

Lalita Chumun


Scupola, A. and Nicolajsen, H. W., 2010. Service innovation in academic libraries: is there a place for the customers. Library Management. 31 (4/5)