To librarians, it may not seem like using our services is risky in the least, but to time-starved patrons, that's not always the case. Like other services, library services are intangible and it can be difficult for patrons to understand the benefits we have to offer. Why, then, should they spend their time participating in a research consultation, for example, if what they're "paying" for?
One way to persuade patrons to spend their time with us instead of alternatives is to clearly spell out what they can expect if they take a chance on our services. As an example, I'll share with you a project I've been working on for new instructors in our University College.
I've been creating a Blackboard site just for new University College instructors that, among other things, describes the services we provide them. One service is our individual consultations, which can be very valuable for instructors working on developing their teaching skills, keeping up with their fields, and doing research. To reduce the perceived risk of taking me up on my offer, I've outlined all of the expectations and outcomes from the service encounter. Here's a list of the items I describe:
- Reasons for scheduling a consultation. Not everyone realizes when they have a need to see us, so I tried to spell out situations where our services will come in handy.
- What to expect before, during, and after your research consultation. Here, I tell instructors that they can expect a prompt response from me in setting up a time to meet and that they should tell me as much about their research question as they can prior to the meeting so I can be adequately prepared. During the meeting, patrons can expect that we will meet for about an hour and they may be exposed to a lot of information, but that follow-up sessions or questions are welcomed. Finally, I tell patrons that they can expect an e-mail from me one week after their session to determine if they have any other questions or needs.
- Patron responsibilities. While I'm here to serve patrons' needs, I want to establish the notion that service interactions require that both parties are active participants. Therefore, I ask the patrons schedule their sessions about a week in advance (if possible), that they bring documentation and/or objectives for the session with them, and that they inform me as soon as possible if they're unable to attend. The goal here isn't to give patrons a laundry list of things to do, but to encourage them to be prepared so that the session is rewarding for them.
I'll let you know the response to this once the Blackboard site goes live. I encourage you to think of ways to make your own services more transparent. Perhaps a video of a scripted, representational reference transactions can ease new students' hesitance to ask for help at the reference desk, for example. You could post it online so that before coming in, students know the drill. It will help to ease anxiety and make the interaction more fulfilling for both parties.