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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Customer Service - 21st Century

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 5, 2008

I worked at my desk all morning, and by noon it didn't feel like I had accomplished anything.


In reviewing my morning's work, I realized that I was doing my work as Library Director and much of the work of the agencies and companies that I was interacting with online.


In this 21st century of technology, agencies and companies have shifted much of their workload to the "customer" if you compare work today to 20 years ago.


My first task was to address an issue with our connection to the State Telecommunications Network.


That involved completing an online form accessed by passwords and filling out everything that had to be done and sending it online.


The agency then called me, and I received an e-mail confirmation.


Next, I had a question for a State Agency, and their web site said that due to budget cuts they would accept the question online and contact me in 10-14 business days.


I received an automated e-mail acknowledging the fact that I had submitted, and repeating the time period for an answer.


Actually, the answer arrived later the same day, with a note of thanks for the clear and succinct nature of my question.


Orders for new books and other library materials are all done online.


It is great to know what is in the publisher's warehouse, and what is backordered, but again I am doing all the work for the company.


When I hit "submit" the order goes into the company's computer, which produces "pull slips" for the warehouse to ship those items.


No more book salespeople with their car trunks full of books, no more chatty all day meetings with human being discussing what publishers are producing.


That has been replaced with endless e-mails about this new book and that new book, and how our library cannot survive without the title on our shelves.


Publication-on-demand has also introduced book publication to everyone, so new books are appearing without benefit of editors or even basic spell check.


And then there is the infamous "Contact Us" button on everyone's web site that connects to absolutely nothing.


I kept a note on the side of my computer for a 6-month period, marking each time I clicked on a "Contact Us" button on a web site.


80 percent of my clicks had no response, ever.


Those clicks fell into the "bottomless abyss of the Internet," as I call it.


Before I become too cavalier in my loss of customer service, I realize that the library has done some of these same things using technology.


You can renew your books online, you can request your books online, you can use our catalog online.


We have "Contact Us" on our web site, but it does connect to something and we do answer requests.


At the same time, we have buildings that are open, and telephones that connect to real human beings.


In this age of technology, everyone has to become a "librarian" to manage information.


We have a responsibility to be able to search and research for information, and communicate with agencies and companies.


Just remember that your other "librarian" is still available at the public library.