Another library course for me today, this one on The Customer Interview. Our public library prides itself in providing dazzling customer service and takes these things very seriously. In a nutshell: we at the information desk need to learn how to ask the right questions to draw out information from the customer in order to locate the right materials.
Here's an example. A customer comes to the desk and asks for books about flying. Taken at face value, one might assume the customer desires information regarding aircraft and take him to this area of the non-fiction section. After asking some open-ended questions to gain more insight, you might find out this customer is actually in need of medical books about jet lag and how to cope with it.
There are many instances where library staff are entrusted with the burden of providing sensitive information in a confidential manner. I'm surprised at how often someone will approach the information desk, look around to make sure no one else is within earshot, then drop their eyes and whisper "I need information about divorce/disease/sexuality/another delicate subject". Sometimes you feel more like a personal counselor than a library employee. Maintaining objectivity is imperative or you may find yourself surreptitiously wiping away tears as you show a customer the array of books about how to cope with a loved one's terminal cancer.
There were some funny (true!) examples in the class about how the customer's initial request can be light years away from their actual desire. "I'd like to know more about how to write cookbooks" was actually a request for Hutterite cookbooks. "What can I find out about castings" might lead you in the direction of medicine (casts for broken bones) or plays (casting calls) but it was really a desire to learn about sand-casted sculptures. "I'm looking for laser marbles" was from someone who wanted to read Les Miserables (that one cracked me up).
During this portion of the class, I had my own example to give. Last night at work, a young boy approached the information desk and asked me if we had anything on Kevin's Hobbies.
"Are you looking for music, a movie or a book?" I questioned the child.
He said it was a number of books. Being relatively new to this job, I initially thought this must be a series of children's books with a main character named Kevin and each book was an adventure based on one of Kevin's many hobbies. As I was turning to the computer to do a keyword search, something made me pause. I turned back to the boy and asked what kind of books Kevin's Hobbies are, and what they were about.
"Cartoons," replied the young lad.
I'm sure a light bulb actually flickered above my head for a moment. "Are these books about a six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger?" I inquired. The boy nodded. "Hmmm, I think I know what you're looking for." I led the wee fellow to our collection of Calvin and Hobbes books by Bill Watterson and was gratified to see the grin spread across his face.
Weather update: As I was driving across the city to attend class this morning, the temperature was -31 C and with the wind chill felt like -45 C. Brrrrr!