Computers in Libraries
Vol. 21, No. 2 • February 2001 

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Achieving Better Service
by Kathy Dempsey 

It isn't just the information industry that's been moving toward personalization in the past couple of years. It's everything, every organization. Once the movement got started, everyone else had to follow suit or run the risk of becoming known for bad service.

It's not easy, personalizing service, especially on the Internet. And suddenly every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants this incredibly enormous network to be configured just for him? It seems a little crazy when you think about it. Yet here we are, playing along. OK, so maybe the coding it takes to make a personalized default home page isn't so bad. And alert services are within our technological grasp. But this is more than coding—it's a whole concept. It's every person wanting the best of everything for himself or herself. It means that we have to keep up with the Joneses, or the Lands' Ends, enabling services like real-time reference chat and follow-me browsing. (See next month's issue for more on these sorts of topics.) It means that we need to serve each customer as an individual. (Hey, wait a minute, we've been doing that for years. But it was a lot simpler in person.)

Sometimes the effort to personalize patron service becomes a Catch-22 situation. For instance: In order to get to know a person and her interests and preferences, you might want to follow her computer activities and record where she goes and what she does. You might want to use cookies and build a user profile without her even having to worry about giving you information. But then the user might get upset because you're "invading" her privacy. What's a systems librarian to do? People want both privacy and personalization. Service providers all have to walk a very thin line these days.

If you want to get into the philosophical musings of how much to personalize and how to accomplish it, you'll want to read Tripp Reade's feature on page 30. He's part of the team that runs one of the most famous personalized services in the country today; it's called MyLibrary@NCState. In another article, a public librarian explains a custom book alert service that his staff set up for their frequent readers. It's a fairly simple idea, but it seems to make the readers quite happy.

Then there's customization of a different color in the article on page 36. These corporate library staff members couldn't find the sort of online catalog that could serve their specialized needs—so, with some good old American ingenuity, they built their own catalog, designed just the way they liked it. Hey, no one said you couldn't use personalization for your own benefit!

Libraries are all about service, and this issue should help you achieve a higher level of service through today's big trend, personalization.

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