Thursday, June 21, 2012

Swiss Army Librarian: Yes-based library policy

A couple weeks ago, in the process of describing how he decided whether to let a library customer use a staff shredder, Brian Herzog of Swiss Army Librarian mentioned his library's yes-based policy.

This idea appeals to my better nature, even though it requires a shift of perspective for those of us who are rule-followers (and rule-enforcers) by temperament.

As I've written elsewhere, yes-based policy humanizes the relationship between staff and customers.

In his earlier post, Brian wrote:

Unshelved (3-6-2008), by Gene Ambaum & Bill Barnes
The culture in this library is to put customer service first, to give patrons a good library experience, with "getting to yes" as our unwritten rule....

[What] rules we do have are considerably flexible, [and] different staff would enforce [them] in different ways.... [This] situation allowed some patrons to "shop around" amongst desk staff until they got the answer they wanted, and this is what finally caused a blow up.

We...decided we needed to ensure that patrons received consistent service, no matter who helped them. We rewrote a portion of our...policy, with the goal of making it clear and fair, while making sure it allowed for the highest degree of service but still punished those who flagrantly abused the system....

The beginning of the new policy contains this preamble:

This library makes certain assumptions when dealing with the public:
  • The staff of this library works to “get to yes” with patrons.
  • The vast majority of patrons are honest; therefore, we take patrons at their word.
  • Patrons appreciate courtesy and understanding. Gentle reminders, along with compassion toward extenuating circumstances, are used to prompt people to return overdue items....
The goal is still serving patrons, but the more black-and-white desk staff now have an up-to-date policy in writing to guide them....

I'm generally a rules-based person, but serving patrons as well as possible should always come first.

It's a fine line between completely meeting one patron's needs and also serving the next patron in line equally and fully, but having a written yes-based policy goes a long way towards making everyone happy.
Worth considering.

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