Service First? A New Kind of Service Model for my Local Library

About a week ago, my older and sister and I returned home to celebrate the winter holidays with my family. As always, within less than twenty-fours of arriving home from Boston, my mom and I piled into the car and made a trip over my town's local library so I could pick up some books to read while I'm home for the break. Although the library had undergone some serious renovations back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, very little has changed in regards to its general services. However, things have apparently changed quite a bit while I have been away. When I walked inside my local library last Saturday, I was horrified to see that the circulation desk was all but gone and in its place were a line of computers and book scanners. After inquiring about the significant changes with a nearby librarian, I learned that the computers and the removal of the circulation desk were all part of the library's new Service First model. While my library's website boasts that amongst other things, the self-checkout system has been regarded as a positive change, I disagree.

From what I saw and experienced, the Service First model is a model that promotes the idea of patrons taking basic library services into their own hands.  While in theory this isn't such a bad idea, since most libraries feature options that allow users to find books on their own without directly needing librarian assistance, I saw some significant flaws in the system. For one thing, when my mother went to check out her books, the librarian at the box that now serves as the circulation desk re-directed her to the computers, insisting that she use the self-checkout system. It wasn't an option, my mom had to use the computers. Before going further, I want to make it clear that I am not against self-checkout. Personally, I think it can be useful but if the system is going be in put in place, it should at least work. Take the Brookline Public Library for example. They feature self-checkout computers that only need to scan your library card to function. Additionally, the circulation desk is sill highly prominent and the staff does not seem to mind which method of checkout a patron uses. Clearly, this is a service model that not only works, but works extremely well. At my local library, a user needs to create a password to use the system rather than simply scanning their cards.  Not surprisingly, this method does not exactly work. I watched a number of other patrons struggle with gaining access to the system, all running into the same problem: the system seemed unable to recognize their passwords. As for me, I couldn't even create a password and when I walked over to the circulation desk, the very same librarian seemed almost angry that she had to help me. Ultimately, my books were checked out the old fashioned way though I was chided for not having created a password for my account. As for my mom, she ended up walking out of the library with a book she forgot she to check out.

Although this Service First model is only its early stages, I personally believe that the model needs some more refinement. However after doing a bit of research, I do understand why my library adopted this new model. Due to a hiring freeze set in place about two years ago, the library has not been able add new members to the staff to meet the needs of the patrons. Without having the appropriate staff numbers to meet patron needs, it makes sense to create a system that allows the users to utilize the resources of the library in a more independent fashion. As I have already said, I am all for a library that wants to promote patron independence. However, it needs to be done correctly. As of now, this is not the case at my local library. For one thing, if a patron doesn't feel comfortable using something like a self-checkout system, they should freely be allowed to use an alternative method. Additionally, all but removing the circulation desk was like removing the heart of the library. When one walks inside now, they no longer see a central hub where they are guaranteed to find assistance. For first time users, this new layout can be somewhat jarring since it is not exactly easy to figure out where to go for help. In LIS 401, we learned about S.R. Ranganathan's five laws of library science, one of which claims that it is the responsibility of the library to save the time of the reader. Promoting the idea that it is crucial for libraries to efficiently meet the needs of library users, this law represents how libraries need to operate in a fashion that is both efficient and user friendly. Personally, I feel like this new Service First model has a long way to go before it can fully fulfill Ranganathan's fourth law. But who knows, perhaps things will only improve from here on out?


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