No, you may not have a friendly chat with library staff

Kathryn Greenhill writes:

Spearwood Library has been remodelled.

They have added a half wall so that staff and patrons cannot make eye
contact or see each other.

It felt really dehumanizing to stand on one side of the barrier,
centimetres from someone in a building built on service and not be
able to smile or say hello.

This is the first thing users see when they enter the library.

I guess it is there to solve some perceived “problem”. Anyone want to
have a guess what and how else it could have been solved?

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13 thoughts on “No, you may not have a friendly chat with library staff”

  1. Perhaps circ staff were answering ‘reference’ questions, or were complaining that they were expected to, or were perceived as undercutting the reference librarian — something amiss here in turf over who answers questions of what type. Perhaps a deeply entrenched circ supervisor with a beef?

    You’re right, the headless staff window is effective at sterilizing interactions at the counter. I suppose that’s the point of the counter remodel.

    Some pretty clear and frank meetings about the underlying toxicities in the service code and attitudes could have brought about a big explosion, but ultimately conflict must out if things will be better. Instead, we get headless counters. So I think there must be embedded “hands off” zones where library admin was not willing to go — legacy staff, big money connected to toxic employee, something like that.

  2. I would guess they’re pages and don’t have ‘talking to patrons’ in their job description. Joan Frye Wilson has some great things to say about this mentality – something along the lines of “what does it say to patrons when we pretend that our OPACs are so complex that the pages would be unable to look anything up on them?”

    Madness.

  3. Big. Mistake. No doubts about it whatsoever.

    ” …Csikszentmihalyi (say it like Chcksentmehigh) found that the most common place that people experience flow was in conversation…”
    –Sawyer, Group Genius, p.43

    At work, at home, in the park, in a meeting, or at the library we should be creating environments that facilitate great conversations. There’s always work to be done, that’s the point. But, you won’t always get to have the great conversations. Especially if you don’t create the space for it.

    This clearly sends the message libraries are about… books…or about something like a mega-super-wal-mart efficient book processing center. And contrary to what Wal-mart wants you to believe it’s not really that fun to go there or work there.

    I have faith that the people staffing this window will find some ingenious way to connect with their patrons. You cannot stop our ability to find connection in the seemingly insignificant, simple moments of our lives. In fact, every event that I was told be profound, wasn’t. Every event I never expected to be, was.

    Libraries should be environments of possibilities -not limits. Space, rules, structure, architecture, work tasks, and flow can all be accounted for and pleasing to Circ, Reference, Admin and most importantly, the human people we serve.

    servado fidem: serve faithfully.

  4. Why in the world have a human there at all? Why not just have a hole in a wall to dump your returns in. How can it be solved? Fire the entire board and the director would be my answer because they obviously have no common sense.

  5. I agree with Ravanna, if admin feels a barrier must be there then make it a shute with a bin at the bottom. That half-wall seems like an obvious rebuff. Besides, patrons aren’t stupid. If they really want to talk to the person in there they are going to lean down and talk.

  6. I don’t understand… you can have a friendly chat with library staff – just go to the customer service desk, as the sign says. Now customers know where to drop their books and have a clear idea of where to go to get their questions answered effectively.

  7. it looks like it was designed so that staff can anonymously moon patrons.

    if you’re not going to talk to people, make a slot and slide for books being returned. the pictured design really is vaguely obscene.

  8. .. or what the heck. make the half-wall cover staff *up to* the waist, so they can slap people.

  9. “Anyone want to have a guess what and how else it could have been solved?”

    Patrons clogging up the entryway (by patrons standing around asking questions in an area that was meant as a pathway)?

    But still – that’s a spectactularly bad idea no matter the reason.

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