February 20, 2007

Efficiency and Service

Posted in Articles of Interest at 10:55 am by Alexia

Yesterday afternoon the network went down.  I never realize just how much work I do on the computer until I’m not able.  I digress…

In an effort to find something work related to do until the network came back up I shuffled through my “to read” pile and picked up an article I’d copied from the November 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review (you can take the librarian out of business school but you can’t take business school out of the librarian).  The article, titled Breaking the Trade-off Between Efficiency and Service turned out to be an article not written specifically for a library but extremely applicable nonetheless.

The article, written by Frances X. Frei, stressed that a service company will never by as “efficient” as a manufacturing company because of the human variable called the customer.  He goes on to talk about the five types of variabilities and the option of accommodating or reducing the variabilities along with the benefits and pitfalls of both options.

This article has given me pause to think on many levels.  First of all, the article reminded me that even though we work in libraries and often times feel that this busines mumbo-jumbo doesn’t fit in our department business principles can work for us and help us improve.  I often think that if hospital libraries embraced business principles more that we’d have less of a problem justifying ourselves to administration.  We, as a profession, have made strides in this area but have a ways to go.  I’ve always felt that a business course or two should be required for an MLS, especially if the student is on a special library track.  I degress yet again…

The article also got me thinking about our customers (patrons).  When it comes down to it, our patrons are the reason we exist.  We try to market our hospital library to bring in more patrons, often times without putting in place mechanisms to help us deal with the increase in library use so that quality does not suffer.  We shouldn’t hide ourselves to keep from becoming overwhelmed but, as the article points out, we need to think ahead and plan before making changes.

Our hospital is on a customer service and customer satisfaction kick, which is why this article caught me attention.  We often think we know best when it comes to our patrons but in reality we don’t.  If we did we would embrace the fact that many of them want to do their own searches and help them do searches better.  We would embrace alternative methods of access, within budgetary constraints.  We would even let down our guard, as we did at my place of work, and allow coffee (in a mug with a lid) in the library, realizing that our major patron base – residents and medical students – work awful hours and appreciate having access to caffeine while studying or doing research.

Obviously the computer network is back up and running and the world is safe from a librarian with too much time on her hands…

1 Comment »

  1. naughtyknit said,

    who can study without the caffeine?? haha, not i.

    thats awesome that you and your son watch it together! i love seeing the boys be crafty too.

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