Historical Baggage: Taking the librarian to the learner Thomas Butler, Head of Libraries and Learning Resources, Croydon College This paper is given at the ALISS 2012: Engaging with Library users: New and innovative approaches. The powerpoint slides can be viewed online at http://www.slideshare.net/ heatherdawson/historical-baggage. Check-in Zone G at Stansted Airport at 5am on a miserably cold and wet Wednesday morning in early March is an unlikely location to get a sudden epiphany on the future of the service you run.
Perhaps helped by a combination of lack of sleep and two double espressos before 4:30 the way Ryanair runs things suddenly presented itself as a solution to a previous unsolvable problem.
As a team we were about to embark on a project to convert to self-service, in preparation for the even bigger project of moving to a new library. Over the previous few weeks we’d been on a couple of visits to other libraries and were getting slightly dispirited as they all said that self-service hadn’t had the take-up that they would have liked.
Our major issue was in moving to a new library we needed to reduce the amount of staff time spent on circulation as we were changing from one to three floors with no significant increase in staffing. Trying to keep the service operating as it was at the moment wasn’t going to be an option without creating unacceptable queues. We already had major issues during the day, even with three members of staff on the issue desk solidly from 10am to 3pm the queues would start by 11, would continue to 2 and during most lunch times were half an hour long. Staff were working as fast as they could, the computer system was working as fast as it could, it was just demand far outstripped supply.
Enter at this stage Ryanair’s latest attempt to trim the bottom line. As I stared bleary eyed at the rows of empty check-in desks looking for which one was processing my flight it became increasingly obvious that there wasn’t a desk, instead serried ranks of luridly bright yellow kiosks were slowly coming into focus. Buzzing between what must have been 20 or so kiosks were three members of staff, helping people to use the machines and then directing them to bag drop, and unlike other airlines which were offering kiosk or desk check-in, Ryanair weren’t offering a choice, so instead of one or two people using kiosks and long queues at traditional desks, there were lots of customers passing quickly through the kiosks with significantly fewer staff involved. It’s at that moment the penny dropped; everywhere I had seen that was using selfservice still had their issue desk, which the majority of people still gravitated towards. Perhaps that was why self-service wasn’t getting the use that was expected. People are conditioned to using the library desk, so if they see it, they’ll use it. A couple of months later, we put our hypothesis to the test, with three self-service units installed and commissioned, we closed our issue desk, crossed our fingers and prepared for the backlash. ALISS Quarterly 7 (4) July 2012
Engaging with users new and innovative approaches