One of the tasks at work is to answer reader enquiries, something I’ve written about before. It’s one of the things I really like dong, at it’s best it is interesting and challenging, and I know I am really helping people, I’ve even had a thank you card to prove it. However, recently I have noticed a trend in the types of enquiries I am getting and the people I am getting them from. Of the last four enquiries I have had three of them have been from undergraduates, and all of them could have been answered without reference to a specialist art library, in fact for one of the answers I referred the reader back to her university library becuase a very quick search showed me several books that would be useful to her. This was the same enquiry I found some very useful sites online, including an exhaustive Wikipedia article which was the first Google result.

I’ve seen quite a few blog posts talking about spoon-feeding, such as this one, and this one, both more about working in an academic library but I’m not surprised it affects people working in specialists libraries too, a lot of the people I serve are students, though mostly postgraduate rather than undergraduate. I spend a lot of time doing stuff for people, some of it is good, I show people how to do something, and afterwards they are able to do it for themselves – how spoon feeding should be. However, there are certainly times I am just carrying out tasks for people who point-blank refuse to let me show them how they can do it themselves, this tends to be on the computer or using the digital camera, and it’s very hard to know how to deal with. I can’t say no, that’s terrible customer service, especially as unlike an academic library the users may not use the library again for several months, or at all, but I would much rather be teaching people to help themselves than doing simple tasks for them.

With my reader enquiry I tried to forge a middle way, I found the information that was wanted, but I also explained how I found the information, and suggested they try using their university campus, as there were several useful looking books there, though I did not directly link to them. Hopefully, the user had the initiative to take my advice and visited their library, found the books, and so did some of their own research. If so, then I have given good customer service and also taught encouraged a student to be more independent. The problem with email enquiries is that I don’t know if I have, in a face-to-face interaction I would have a much better idea of what the user did afterwards.

I agree with Ned Potter, spoon-feeding can be useful, but I also despair of an undergradute who has not checked the internet or their university library catalogue before having to email a specialist library for help. I think dealing with people who don’t want me to teach them, they just want me to do the work for them, has made me more determined to help people by teaching them in the future, I’m trying to use an awkward situation to make my customer service better.