Re: Library failures... -- 3 messages Stephen Clark 30 Sep 2002 19:44 UTC

3 messages:


-------- Original Message --------
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 12:50:36 -0600
From: Dan Lester <>
Subject: Re[2]: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
           Lester)-- Rick Anderson

Monday, September 30, 2002, 8:55:39 AM, you wrote:

SC> But if the patron _has_ come to my library looking for the Gutenberg
SC> Bible, and I don't have it, then I've failed that patron.  Period.
That doesn't mean I'm not doing a good job; it just means that I'm not
meeting my patron's need.

The Gutenberg is sort of a red herring, since even if you're at LC, it
is highly unlikely you're ever going to get your hands on the

SC> Let me try to make my point a bit clearer.  I'm not saying that
every library ought to have a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.  I'm saying
that we should look at our success or failure through our patrons' eyes,
not our own.  It doesn't matter to the patron whether we're doing as
well as could reasonably be expected.  What matters to the patron is
whether we have what's needed (or wanted).

This is one of the problems of quantitative measurement of such
things. I'm a real quantitative kind of guy, but every methodology
has its flaws. As we all know, a freshman may come in and want
something from an exotic journal for her five page English 101 paper
on abortion.  She wants it because it was in the first screen of
citations from her search in some database. Sure, she may be unhappy
if we don't have it, but I can hope that she is counseled by a
reference or ILL person to accept something equally appropriate from
one of hundreds of other sources. If we do it right, she doesn't even
think we failed, as we've helped her to get what she needed, not what
she thought she wanted.

SC>  > And I take great exception with your expression of "right
SC>  > away"--There is a difference between providing good service,
SC>  > and being "fast".

SC> Not if our patrons need the information fast.

Once again, we're back to needs and wants.  I've seen signs in various
businesses that say something like "Your failure to plan ahead doesn't
mean that your situation constitutes an emergency for me."  Most of us
have put off things like term papers. I don't feel sorry at all for
the student who shows up the day before his twenty page paper is due
and is upset that we can't get him some obscure article that he knew a
month ago that he "needed", or at least wanted.  Does that lack of
sympathy turn him into a happy patron?  Probably not, and if I'm doing
my job I don't show my feelings.

But you can't make everybody happy all of the time, and that may be a
key point we all need to remember.



Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 12:59:29 -0600
From: Dan Lester <>
Subject: Re: Library failure (RE: NOT the "Serials Crisis" -- Dan
Lester) --Rick Anderson

Thursday, September 26, 2002, 9:34:34 AM, you wrote:

SC> I'm not a big fan of corporate management rhetoric, but I've always
liked Jack Welch's observation that in too many organizations, "Most
people have their a--es to the customer and their faces to the
chairman."  Substitute "patron" for "customer" and "professional
standards" for "chairman," and I think you've got a pretty fair
assessment (no pun intended) of where we stand as a profession right now.

This is absolutely correct.  A great many librarians, and most
frequently those in various "behind the scenes" areas (including
administration) can only see the quantitative and budgetary measures.
Of course part of that is because those are the things they have to
deal with in their relationships with Vice Presidents and others, but
good administrators also keep their fingers on other aspects of the
library's operations and services.

We're here for one purpose only: to serve patrons. Everything else
that happens in libraries is just a backup to the direct service.

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002 13:04:06 -0600
From: Dan Lester <>
Subject: Re[2]: Library failures -- Albert Henderson

Thursday, September 26, 2002, 12:55:01 PM, you wrote:

SC>         For every rare book that a library cannot deliver,
SC>         there are probably several popular ones that are
SC>         also undeliverable because the one copy collected
SC>         is in use, misplaced, in the bindery, or so on.

This is absolutely true, and a fine example of the classic dilemma of
whether to buy ten copies of one book or one copy of ten books.  In
general, we do the latter, as do most academic libraries. And even in
the public libraries that may have a hundred copies of the latest best
seller, there are still people queueing up for those copies.

SC>         Reasonable standards should be based on research
SC>         and experience. When they are not met you have a
SC>         situation you can call unacceptable.

Absolutely.  And we (and others on this list) disagree on what is
"acceptable", which is hardly surprising.

SC>  > But, if it is any consolation, I can't think of much more that
Albert and I could say on this topic.  At least not much more that I
could say.

SC>         We'll see...

And indeed you have.  But it was short, at least.



Dan Lester, Data Wrangler 208-283-7711
3577 East Pecan, Boise, Idaho  83716-7115 USA  Stop Global Whining!