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Magazines > Online > July/August 2006
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Online Magazine

Vol. 30 No. 4 — Jul/Aug 2006

The HomePage
Customer Service, Information Professionals, and Library 2.0
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

There is nothing more disconcerting than walking into your office first thing in the morning and discovering that your Internet connection has vanished. This happened to me the other day, and, I confess, I felt a moment of panic. I don’t even like being without access to the Web and e-mail when I travel, although I expect it and have had more than my share of fascinating discussions with tech people while sitting in hotel rooms waiting for them to tell me why, even when I follow the directions to the letter, I can’t get my laptop to connect. Although it frustrates me to have these conversations (I’d prefer to just have the equipment work as advertised), I am always surprised by the geographic diversity of the teams assigned to fix problems. Last year, when I was in London, England, the technician on the phone was in Alberta, Canada—and it was 3 a.m. his time!

Much as I expect difficulties when I travel, I don’t expect them to strike in my office where everything worked perfectly the day before. I knew I was in for an irritating series of phone calls, and sure enough, it was speech technology at its worst. I was greeted with a mechanical voice requesting that I “select from the following options so that we can properly direct your call.” However, none of the options on offer seemed to fit my situation. I was particularly charmed by the suggestion that I go to a Web site to report my problem. If my car won’t start, I suppose I should drive it to the repair shop?

It took most of the day, but service was finally restored. In addition to realizing how incredibly dependent I am on Internet access, the incident offered some insights into the behavior of information professionals. How many of our libraries have an automated system that rivals my Internet provider’s in complexity and incomprehensiveness? Do we use library jargon that callers may or may not understand? Have we included an option to talk with a human being and get out of the voice mail loop?

When we’re talking to someone with an information problem, do we conduct a thorough reference interview or do we try to force them to phrase their question to fit our resources? Are we truly excited about solving their information problem? It’s not always easy to be enthusiastic in our jobs, but the number of people I spoke with in the course of getting my Internet connection restored who told me, in a bored monotone, that they desired to exceed my expectations, ensure they solved my problem, and appreciated my business was astonishing. When I pointed out they hadn’t solved anything, but were merely passing my call on to someone else, they were affronted. From a Library 2.0 perspective, we should think about involving our clientele in the conversation, consider them as partners, and appreciate their expertise. Information professionals should avoid condescension, while sharing our specialized knowledge about online research and library protocols. And, of course, hope our Internet connections stay healthy.


Marydee Ojala [marydee@xmission.com] is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.com.

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