E-mail reference and teachable moments.

So, the other day, while I was writing about technology and heart, David Lee King took a number of libraries to task for “discriminat[ing] against a certain type of customer,” namely digital natives.

My library was one of them.


I showed Richard, and he joined the discussion on David’s blog (I defer to management in such matters as speaking for the library on the blogs of prominent library bloggers). I have to say, I am not exactly thrilled with the delivery of the message – the word “discriminate” implies, to my mind, a deliberate malice which decidedly does not exist.  Everybody in this organization works their behinds off to deliver the best possible service to all patrons.

Here’s the thing, though:  he kind of has a point about the language as it currently exists on our website.  It’s been up there for eons, and it’s easy to let those sorts of things go in the “boots on the ground,” helter-skelter atmosphere of a normal day at an urban public library.

So I volunteered to rewrite the web copy.   Richard and I have been passing drafts back and forth most of the day, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to get a more user-friendly version up there soon. The goal is to be inviting and welcoming while still pointing out the special circumstances that might affect service levels.

So, the moral here is that sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it.  There are still going to be times when longer turnaround times are needed on an e-mail reference question…but I think we can say it better than that.

ETA, 4:27 p.m. Edits are up. Constructive criticism appreciated.

ETA 1/12, 5:58 PM Thanks to everyone who has visited, commented, or otherwise participated in this blog in the last few days. Much to think about! A very busy day of reference service has prevented me from writing a full update, but I hope to be back with more thoughts and questions soon.

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  1. RK said,

    January 8, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Hierarchies, we have hierarchies of service, but we do not discriminate.

    Well we may actually. Romulans, I don’t abide them. There is no honor in being a Romulan.

  2. January 8, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Heh. Good thing my sci-fi show of choice was Babylon 5. I’m Romulan-neutral.

  3. January 8, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    You guys rock! In my opinion, what you now have is great. Thanks for listening! And I know your library works hard and really doesn’t discriminate – I’ve toured your facility, and it’s wonderful.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. January 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks, David, on all counts. But especially for putting the ideas out there that keep challenging me to think differently. :)

  5. January 8, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    [...] – if you want to get a bit more of the back story on this change, check out this post from the Library Alchemy blog (great blog, by the [...]

  6. Don said,

    January 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    “If your question requires more time or offline research than expected,”

    How’s about:

    “If your question requires more time than expected (i.e. we need to do offline research),”

    Just a tweak.


  7. January 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Ooh, good call, IMHO. RK – opine?

  8. January 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    [...] and off, public and private, about David Lee King’s two posts on IM reference, and the many varied blog replies to [...]

  9. kelley said,

    January 11, 2009 at 11:34 am

    This is one of those times I see ‘transparency’ at work and it’s so great to be able to see the process! Thanks for sharing, guys! I had read that post from DLK and was intrigued by his take on the wording. So cool to see a library respond!

  10. January 11, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    As I’ve said publicly and privately in the last 24-48, Kelley, just doing our jobs. :)

    And, to be perfectly transparent, I must confess I haven’t even looked at work stuff this weekend (except for Facebook, which is a curious blend of my worlds), and so didn’t see that until just now. Hope you weren’t expecting an instantaneous response (hee hee hee).

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