Tastes Great, Less Filing.
A recent LibraryJuice posting made an analogy targeted at undergrads suggesting why they should choose the library over Google. “Why eat at McDonald’s when you can eat for free at the five star restaurant of your choice?”
Several comments, including my own, critiqued this statement; but I kept thinking about the other ways this restaurant analogy could apply to libraries. Perhaps this is from watching Kitchen Nightmares too often, but I still wanted to explore this conceptual analogy.
Following the Kitchen Nightmares analogy, there seem to be things that commonly cause the featured restaurants to fail or at least struggle to bring in patrons.
- The menus are too complex or unfamiliar
- The restaurant isn’t aware of its environment or competition
- The ambiance isn’t welcoming or comfortable
- The staff is too disconnected or acting unprofessionally
- The chef/owner isn’t thinking in business terms or is too personal in execution
It seems that these five issues are all too common in below average restaurants and once they are addressed, often turn a “rusty spoon” into “fine dining.” (Note that I still didn’t call them 5-star)
So how does the library model fit into these criteria? Well for one if we think of a menu as being similar to our library catalogs or web sites, then there may be some room to talk. With multiple means of access (on site, full text, citation indexes, off site storage, ILL, etc…) all being featured on “library menus,” it is no wonder why patrons may become put off at finding what they want through the library. Granted it isn’t as easy to “fix” the menus by eliminating choices as many are necessary, but resolving ways to translate the “library jargon” into an easy to understand process may be a solution here. (Of course, if I had that answer I would already be a millionaire.)
This point bleeds into the second item of a being aware of your environment and competition. Libraries are well versed in performing environmental scans but have been tentative to truly evaluate the relationships between many of the search companies quickly becoming information resources. Maybe some clever “value added” campaigns showing a library’s real worth to an institution may be a first step. But the real trick is to know what your patrons need and highlight what specialties make your library stand out.
As for the issue of comfortable ambiance, many libraries have been busy making their physical spaces more user-friendly and less institutional. Cafes, lounges, food, gaming, and energy pods (a place for a nap) have helped to change the libraries into communal gathering places in which studying seamlessly couples with recreation. There are however issues of civil behavior which have affected both sides of this analogy. I feel that many of the same trends in behavior (poor customer service and overly casual sensibilities) have led to experiences which leave a bitter taste in many people’s mouths. For instance, I can’t stand eating my meal and being annoyed by someone talking loudly on their cell phones or behaving like they are at a football match. The ability to respect one another and act in a civil manner has been somewhat lost in the modern “do as you will” mentality. There was a time when libraries insisted on civil behavior in their walls, as did restaurants. I believe that once a professional atmosphere is presented, the behavior can easily follow.
The question of the staff being disconnected or unprofessional is a tricky two-edged sword that may ruffle too many feathers to truly address here. However, all too often libraries are too quick to departmentalize their work force; so much so, the separated departments often cannot see how their tasks contribute to the library as a whole. Personally, I really don’t care for the superficial “team-centric” motivational buzz phrases, but the ability to set and focus on unified goals can often change a group of disjointed “tribes” into a successful unit.
Unprofessional behavior is something that may seem to be minimally apparent but, in my opinion, when left unchecked can strangle an efficient library. There may be cases of “class” strife between support staff and faculty librarians, or there may just be certain individuals who consistently act in an inappropriate manner, but seem to evade any critical reprimands. In either case, dynamic management is the key to smoothing out the edges and eliminating the problem areas. This is not meant to suggest brash firings or cruel punishments, but rather seeing a manager intercede when applicable. Managers must not only worry about their external environmental scanning, but be ready for daily internal environmental scans. If you feel the winds change abruptly you may need to take down the sails or at least give the lines some slack…
And finally, the last problem that occurs in the aforementioned “failing restaurants” is that the owner/chef deals with thing much too personally and is not addressing the business side of their business. For libraries I personally (no pun intended) feel that this associates very closely with my last point. Libraries, for the most part, often feature very liberal attitudes; which are ideal for championing new educational endeavors or addressing the free access of information. This liberal nature does not always fit so well with fiscal restructuring and human resource conflicts. Difficult decisions will sometimes need to be made, but should not be based on personal influences. If someone isn’t performing to at least their minimum expectations, have been evaluated, given obtainable goals and suggestions, and continue to show no attempts at professional development; their redundancy must be called into question. A chef who forgets to take the lamb out of the vegetarian dish, either isn’t trying very hard or truly doesn’t care. In either case, something has to change.
I had hoped not to get into too much of a rant here, but a large portion of what libraries do is service. I personally feel that this aspect sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. In general terms, we provide a commodity to a patron, who may or may not return for another visit if their reaction was negative. So maybe the McDonald’s analogy was close to the point in some ways. Would patrons come back to a restaurant whose cuisine was hand made by a professional chef using fresh ingredients or to a chain with amateur chefs using frozen processed ingredients? Hopefully, the first option would seem most appealing.
The real key to the success of the restaurants/libraries is making the best product, within reason economically, while doing so in the most efficient and positive way. Throughout all of this, we must be not only happy in our jobs, but proud of what we put out as the product. If you wouldn’t be happy with the “meal” you are serving, why should the patron feel any different?
I just wanted to post Gordon Ramsay’s web site. Imagine if you would rather step into that or a McDonald’s when you are hungry…