Monday, 13 July 2009

Is your library faceless?

Lorcan Dempsey makes an interesting observation in a recent blog
He says:
"I continue to be amazed at how difficult it is to find the name or contact details of the library director on many library websites. And in some cases to find the names of other relevant library contacts. This is especially the case given the emphasis on the human touch the library provides, and the expertise of library staff."

I have to agree with him. I often need to find contact details for Heads of Library services and the libraries websites often fail to provide this information. Most websites provide general contact details or an enquiry form but these are often anonymous and do not identify a specific individual.

Looking at local examples, Rotherham Libraries is a model of good practice. Under Contact Us it has clear instruction for contacting the library service by phone, e-mail or in writing. It then goes on to list the job titles, names and contact details of all the senior staff. Bernard Murphy as head of service even has a photograph.

Sheffield Libraries is also good at providing general contact details. It then invites the public to contact the senior management team by e-mailing the City Librarian, Janice Maskort. It does not provide details of the senior management team and this may be deliberate. There have been many changes recently and perhaps it is preferable that enquiries go right to the top and can then be delegated as appropriate. It does however leave them faceless.

Leeds and Doncaster libraries again have general contact details but neither gives any clue whatsoever to the identity of the head of library services or senior library staff.

Academic Libraries seem to do better. The University of Sheffield Library has a detailed listing of staff with contact details (no photos though!)

How important is this? As Lorcan says, libraries do like to think that we have a human touch. Many local government authorities insist that front line staff wear name badges on the grounds that users prefer to know who they are dealing with - so why shouldn't this apply in the virtual world as well? And libraries are all about information. Isn't it reasonable to expect that the library website should give information about the library service as well as library services? If you go on the website for Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury you can find a link somewhere that gives you the names of the senior managers. Why should Chief Librarians be so reticent?

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