Library staples: what people really want from their libraries!

Let’s call it the Apple Store Agenda, an environment where you can relax, use the gizmos and gadgets, get online or take a class without anyone hassling you or being too invasive. Thanks to pioneers such as Apple, Google and the like, the world’s now filled to the brim with modern day consumers who have expectations - expectations that the basic staples will always be available to them, and they will be of a certain quality. What does that mean to anyone wanting to attract a new audience into their world or space? It’s simple, provide the basic quality staples and your target audience shall come (assuming you have the right stapes for the right target audience, and of course - they know about it!).

With libraries as a leading community resource, we generally have this element of our organisation pretty well handled. However we thought it might be interesting to review the top five library staples - according to our research.

  1. High speed free internet.

Seems fairly simple enough right? You would be wrong. Shockingly bad WiFi is the number one complained about library resource. This is generally because the internet services libraries use may be considered 'home-grade' rather than 'business-grade'. There is a thing called bandwidth - and when you get a heap of users all using the same resource, it starts to become cluttered and collapse under the weight of pressure of way too many users and devices than what it is built or designed for.

New technology will also have different requirements for the internet, and let's not forget BYOD (or Bring Your Own Device) - people are bringing their devices into the library en masse, so high-performing internet is a must. Consider it also from a productivity perspective, not only are you and your colleagues productivity significantly impacted, but also your customers, including students, business owners, workers etc. who come in to do their work. They will all be negatively affected. A community with poor productivity is one that just won't keep up in the long run with the challenges of a 21st century environment. It is a critical service to keep your community succeeding in a rapidly changing market place, so it is one of the single most important investments worth paying for. 

staples snap1.jpg

  1. Clean toilets.

Your library must have a clean and inviting bathroom space accessible to both current library users and non-users. This is absolutely a not-negotiable. We are in the service industry, and as a community centre with access to numerous resources, it is just so important to get this one right. Consider your computer keyboards, common desk areas, door handles, floors, books and other paper resources, printers and photocopiers etc. If your library has a filthy toilet, what dirt, bacteria and germs are pervading the rest of your library? A clean toilet area not only keeps the rest of your library clean and in good order, it says an enormous amount about how your library is being managed. A filthy toilet area will often reflect in poor library management practices. Of course - we know that people can be unfathomably disrespectful of such areas and create a horrendous mess, however, there should be systems and processes in place that any identified issues are resolved immediately. 

You wouldn't want to eat in a restaurant which had filthy toilets, you wouldn't want your friends using your toilet if you knew it was really dirty, you wouldn't want to do business with an organisation on seeing the mess and filth in their bathroom area, and likewise, your library toilet says more about your library than you'll know. The rule here is keep it clean, keep it professional, and show respect to your customers through the provision of respectful facilities. This says a lot about you, about the management of your library, and the attitude to your customers. 

  1. Library workers to help people find what they need.

We know it’s 2017 and we’ve hit the digital age but people still want their library services presented with a personal or human touch. What does that mean for you? It means supporting your automated, digital, self-service efforts (all of which are necessary in a 21st century library) with well trained and friendly staff - that are customer-centric. There is no excuse for poor customer service ever. If someone isn't able to be friendly and helpful, even when having a bad day, then they're in the wrong job. Library services are all about serving the needs of customers, and solving meaningful problems for them.

Library customers need hands on support to talk them through when they get stuck, to help them make the most out of the online resources available to them, to help them navigate the library and its sometimes scary systems and processes (for the uninitiated), to help them connect to the library WiFi or use an iPad, or to simply just have a chat on a really bad day.  Consider having library workers available at all times - there should always be a customer focussed library worker whose sole job at that moment is to be customer facing. Automation and digital is great, but we still need to be human and personable.                                                                                                                          

  1. Quiet study spaces for all ages.

And when we say 'quiet' we mean it. Having a space to stop the worlds noise, disconnect from the world, and connect with the content is so powerful. This is typically the most appealing space for teens and young adults as they study through the HSC, through tertiary study and beyond. Sometimes people just want to read a book in a quiet safe area.

However, for effective management of this quiet space, it also important to provide alternate areas where people can use a different space in a different way - for collaboration, for teamwork, for catching up, for meetings etc. Libraries are no longer singular spaces with a single manner of use. They are multi-functional, and the spaces need to reflect that.

In quiet places, consider placing signs within the area asking people to 'please keep it down'. Request users keep things to a quiet whisper and ensure they know to place their mobile devices on silent. Explain why, and offer alternate areas if they wish to use the space in a different way.

The University Library at The University of Western Australia have created and now display the below signs to help users understand the purpose of each library space and how to appropiately use each zone. It is a really clever idea, which helps keep the library relevant to all different types of users who wish to engage with the library space in a different way.

staples snap2.jpgSource: The University of Western Australia

    5. Public meeting spaces. 

What a great resource! Considering libraries as collaborative environments resourcing all areas of the community is critical. Local business is one such area that libraries must support if they are to help solve local economic and social issues. Small and micro-businesses deliver so much value to their communities, including employment opportunities (did you know that small business accounts for the largest share of employment in Australia at 44%, compared with 24.3% for medium sized businesses and 31.7% for large businesses?).

Imagine housing the next business start-up, providing an area for businesses to collaborate interstate or internationally through video-conferencing devices, or providing a planning space for the local not-for-profit organisation. It’s exciting to think of the outcomes this type of space might bring. We’ve seen this best executed when libraries have a larger hero area that can be pre-booked, charged for with a nominal fee, with value added devices or resources, or services (at a small fee), with the addition of smaller meeting zones available for free on a first-come first-serve basis. 

The Geelong Library present their available meeting spaces in such a clear and effective manner on their website that it allows potential bookers to register interest online, gain a fantastic understanding of the available space and resources available, and review room sizes. 

staples snap3.jpgSource: The Geelong Library

So there you have it. Reflecting on the above list, how many of these are you already providing to your customers? And of the ones you are providing, could you improve on the way they are presented to your community, and accessed? Lots to think about, and as always lots to do! We hope you're inspired to make a few updates and changes to your library to continue to deliver outstanding value to your library community.

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