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PALEY LECTURE FOCUSES ON SERVICE QUALITY

Libraries can, and should, employ recent innovations in management theory, according to Professor Thomas Childers of Drexel University's College of Information Science and Technology. Childers made this claim in "Aspects of Goodness," a lecture on service quality in libraries that he delivered at Paley Library on February 6, 1997. By "goodness," Childers means "effectiveness" of service, not an inherent moral quality and certainly not "good intentions." Libraries, like other organizations, know they have been effective when they attain their goals: the harmony of customer and service and the service organization, a strong "customer base," and dependable--or even increased--revenue.

Childers illustrated his thesis using two types of management theory: the model advanced by Parasuraman, Berry, and Zeithaml ("SERVQUAL") and a list of 20 "factors" affecting service quality identified by Chase and Bowen. The SERVQUAL model is a five-level diagram of service that highlights "gaps" that appear between supplier and customer and within the supplier's organization. One such gap (labeled "Gap 1") is the one between the customer's expectations of service and management's own perceptions of what the customer expects. To close the gap the library must find out what the customer expects: When should the library be open? How can it provide the best access to journals? How long (if at all) are customers willing to wait for materials? Further, why do those who do not use our services avoid the library, and what would they like us to do about it? We must also be sure that our own attempts to communicate with the public are not part of the problem: Do we lead customers to expect service we cannot, in fact, provide ("Gap 4")? If so, we must change these expectations, even if it means lowering them.

Of Chase and Bowen's 20 service factors, Childers drew special attention to seven. When applied in the library, they illuminate the same problems as the SERVQUAL model. Considerations of reliability, for example, highlight the problem of customer expectations. The library in which different staff members at the same "service point" provide widely different levels of service is hardly an unusual one; the result is invariably confused and frustrated customers. Two other items from Chase and Bowen's list mentioned by Childers are: a) getting, and b) acting on, feedback from customers, exactly the problem signaled by "Gap 1" of the SERVQUAL model. Whether the library adopts a complex model like SERVQUAL or uses a checklist like Chase and Bowen's, the library's will to change is still the key factor. Librarians must attempt to assume the customer's point of view, try out new ideas, and (yes) risk failure.

Professor Childers spoke at the invitation of the Continuing Education Committee of the Academic Assembly of Librarians. His pioneering use of unobtrusive studies of reference service in public libraries culminated in the publication of What's Good: Describing Your Public Library's Effectiveness (1993) and an associated effectiveness study. Approximately 25 staff members from Temple University Libraries attended the lecture. Their sharp questions after Professor Childers's presentation suggest that he may have called us to a more strenuous quest for "goodness."


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