This paper on library service was written by Amy
Proni (now Amy Ranger) for
ILS-565, Library management, taught by Dr. J. M. Kusack, Southern
Connecticut State University, Spring, 2004. Assignment:
Research how a library can improve the quality of service offered to
its community. Consider staffing, training, evaluation, incentives, and
other issues. In general, reading six to ten articles on TQM or the
service issues from library publications or the general management
literature should be sufficient. Then summarize ten to twenty
recommendations or techniques for assuring quality service.
Note: this is not an exercise about a particular service, but how to
improve the quality of service and the service orientation of the staff. Service exercise
Total Quality Management for libraries
A revolution in technology has led to the
emergence of the virtual university, which is supported in part by the
virtual library. This change has forced the library to become more of
an information broker, acquiring and redistributing the commodities
known as scholarly work and knowledge. (Lincoln, 2002).
Previously the academic library was a hallowed hall of learning, the
very center of academic life. Today it must fight for every penny that
can be wrenched from the talons of university administrators, who seem
to take the view that the library is “so yesterday,” in contemporary
terms. This paper will address possible solutions that can be employed
to improve the quality of service offered to an academic community.
Four aspects of service are considered: place, service, accessibility,
and personal control.
The Library as Place. The library offers both a refuge and a
powerful symbol to members of the academic community. Transactions
conducted within its walls are not just for goods or services, but
consist of social, cultural, and intellectual performances. Provide
spaces for activities other than reading: discussions, crafts, theatre,
quiet reflection and relaxation. (Ranseen, 2002). Offer art exhibits
and bulletin boards or information kiosks to educate, entertain, and
inform. Create leisure reading collections near comfortable furniture.
Monitor how groups interact with the physical space so that diverse
learning styles may be accommodated. Students collaborating – whether
they are in small groups or large – require appropriately sized study
areas. Some students may prefer a conference room, with a large table
and several chairs; while others might work better in a more open
space, where they can walk around, make notes on a chalkboard (or use
presentation software on their wireless laptop computers) and
physically interact with the space. A coffee bar or snack stand makes
sense for distance learners or the late-night crowd, and would probably
be greatly appreciated by staff as well. Maintain hours of operation
appropriate to the community (weekends, evenings), and remember that
the gate count is not the only indication of how well the library is
used — consider also how long people stay and how many resources must
be re-shelved at the end of the day. Provide comment cards and drop
boxes at several visible service points in the library, check the boxes
regularly and respond to the comments.
Affect of Service. Recruit, develop, and retain productive and
qualified employees. The library staff must be responsive to the needs
of patrons; be empathetic, dependable, reliable, and knowledgeable.
(Jenkins, 2002). Promote excellence from all potential service points:
circulation, reference, inter-library loan, government documents,
special collections, technical service, with regard to speed, courtesy,
and accuracy. (Self, 2004). Improve service to patrons by creating a
base of shared knowledge on the library intranet. (Block, 1999). This
can be something as simple as teaching the staff to use a shared
calendar, such as GroupWise; or asking different departments and
individuals to create informative documents that could help assist
others in their absence. Asking the humanities librarian to note his
favorite reference sources for 19th century American literature, or the
visual resources librarian to share her preferred on-line art exhibit
links would enable less knowledgeable staff on duty to be credible and
Access to information. Offer the broadest, deepest, and most
affordable collection of scholarly materials, in a variety of formats.
Process new materials as quickly as possible, and train the stacks
staff to correctly identify and shelve resources. Use appropriate
security to protect and maintain the collection, physically as well as
electronically. Access to the library catalog for individuals
off-campus is a necessity, as is a secure server to host the database
and staff time to maintain it. Employ proxy server(s) to provide fast
and secure access to electronic resources. Provide research material
that is relevant and convenient through the use of full-text on-line
databases – if students cannot find the right data easily and quickly,
they will likely turn to a popular search engine to retrieve
less-than-scholarly information. (Block, 2000). Support resource
sharing with a well-trained interlibrary loan department staff that has
the ability to respond to user’s requests in an accurate and timely
Personal control. Staff must be familiar with the library
collections and able to give concise directions to users who wish to
venture off alone. Others, who may not yet be sophisticated library
users, will prefer the assistance of a librarian. Either way, a
supportive library staff will assist all users (experienced or novice,
on premises or virtual) in locating, evaluating, and using information
effectively. A web site with a clean layout, easily understood terms
and simple links offers an easy entrance into the virtual library for
autonomous users. Links to class guides, such as “Library resources for
English 105,” can assist a reluctant library user — even if it is the
evening before a paper is due. For those independent
information-seekers who visit the library in person, provide
distinctive signage, maps, and color-coded sections. Neophyte users may
enjoy a tour of the collections and a bibliographic instruction
session, or their exploration may be interest-focused and self-guided.
(Lincoln, 2002). A variety of entry points into the labyrinth of an
academic library will serve diverse needs.
There is no single way to assure quality service in an academic
library. The manager must rely on observations of front-line staff and
analysis of survey instruments such as LibQual, as well as regularly
“walking the floor” and interacting with the community. She must
understand the community’s needs and the abilities of her staff, then
make an effort to ask, listen, and be prepared to act on their behalf.
return to top Notes
Lincoln, Yvonna S. (2002). Insights into library services and users
from qualitative research. Library & Information Science
Research, v. 24, no. 1, 3–16.
Ranseen, Emily. (2002). The library as place : changing perspective. Library
Administration & Management, v. 16, no. 4, 203–207.
Ferguson, Anthony W. (1998). Back talk: customer satisfaction is job
one. Against the grain, April, 94.
Jenkins, Paul. ([2002?]). Chart: LibQUAL survey results, all user
groups. Retrieved February 19, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
Self, Jim. ([2004?]). Balanced scorecard 2003-04: metrics, user
perspective. Retrieved February 19, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
Block, Marylaine. (1999). Improving service by sharing knowledge.
Retrieved February 20, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
Block, Marylaine. (2000). The fate of non-digitized scholarly
resources. Retrieved February 21, 2004 from the World Wide Web: