A concierge by any other name

In November, we kicked off our plan to introduce a Concierge Model for library services here at Stanford Libraries (SULAIR). The general idea is to emphasize “concierge-like” service to scholars, focusing on serving as a single point of contact for the full range of needs a scholar might have. The bulk of our work will be on equipping and empowering our staff to provide that kind of service — which will require a series of cross-training activities. For example, we want the Subject Specialist for Economics to be knowledgeable enough about the range of services we offer that they can be the “concierge” for a faculty project involving numeric data, digitization of government documents, maps, GIS applications, and maybe some visualization software. SULAIR provides all of those services, but spread across many parts of the organization. In our new service model, the faculty member gets access to all those services and resources through the single point of contact instead of having to figure out where each of those services lives in our 400+ person organization.

The kick-off of our new “Concierge” model included a formal presentation, discussion, and interactive use-cases at our annual managers’ retreat; a shorter presentation at our quarterly All Staff meeting; and a follow-up at our monthly managers’ meeting. The best part of all of these presentations and discussions has been learning that librarians and other staff really, really, really dislike the Concierge metaphor.

I have never been so happy to have gotten something wrong. The fact that the term Concierge struck such a nerve with folks has resulted in tons of feedback and engagement, and spurred a spirited and collaborative attempt to come up with a better metaphor. The primary objection to the term Concierge is that it implies a much more subservient relationship to the client/guest/scholar than the kind of collaborative and collegial relationships that we foster within our community.

Some of the alternate labels staff have suggested for our Single-Point-of-Contact model of library services are:

  • Ambassador
  • Sherpa
  • Docent
  • (River) Guide
  • Steward
  • Advocate
  • Champion
  • Ally
  • Match-Maker

In my opinion, each of these suggestions works best if you add Information before the label — i.e. Information Ambassador, Information Sherpa, etc. Which led to someone (my boss, I think) suggesting “Informationist” as the right label. I’m skeptical that we would get buy-in from scholars for a completely new term that sounds very library jargony. And, of course, more than one person has wondered why we can’t simply use the term “librarian”? My answer to that is that very few students, and perhaps even fewer faculty, think of a “librarian” as someone who can help them with statistical analysis, data visualization, multi-media production or any of the other not-typical-library-services we provide in support of research and teaching. And the whole “Concierge” plan is intended in part to address our image and marketing challenge.

At this point, we haven’t settled on the right term, but the debate over labels has helped us to distill some of the key elements of a good “Concierge/Ambassador/Information Sherpa/Whatever”:

  1. They are active and pro-active in identifying a full range of Library resources and services that would support a scholar’s research and teaching needs.
  2. They have expertise and “insider knowledge” of our organization and of our business — from trends in scholarly communication, to internal and external digitization efforts, to developments in e-book publishing, etc.
  3. They work collaboratively with scholars, contributing their particular expertise to a project as a colleague.
  4. They provide seamless and efficient access to the very broad array of services and resources offered by the libraries.
  5. When acting as the “Champion” for a particular project, they assume responsibility and leadership for the project.

Now if we can just figure out what to call them (us) …

12 Responses to “A concierge by any other name”

  1. 1 Diane Philip January 20, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Concierge would probably work up here in Montreal – bilingual term but.. caretaker, doorman mmm all the students think everyone is a librarian why not just stick with that why a new term.. Diane


  2. 2 biculturalist January 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Let me suggest the term “Knowledgent” –a madeup word that implies obvious connotations aligned with knowledge and support. I, another feral librarian, will be ok with being called a “Concierge,” however, being called a “Knowledgent” would be a joy.
    Cheers for a great 2012!


  3. 4 Liz Chapman January 11, 2012 at 2:37 am

    I like this it’s thought provoking and gets at the heart of the need to renew our relationships with those who no longer come INTO the Library. Copying what our HR Colleagues do I was wondering about Information Partner. Please keep tweeting on how it all goes.


    • 5 Chris Bourg January 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Liz — I’ll definitely continue blogging and tweeting about this project. New ideas and approaches continue to emerge in every discussion about this.
      Thanks for your comments.


  4. 6 Ricky Erway January 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    The JHU Medical Library uses the term “informationist.”
    Drop in on our Distinguished Seminar Series next Monday morning to hear Nancy Roderer speak about it. http://www.oclc.org/research/dss/roderer.htm


  5. 8 cm January 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I think, perhaps, on library salaries, that your staff have not stayed in fancy enough hotels. The concierge, in a hotel chain such as the Ritz Carlton on the Taj, is the revered person who can access ANYTHING. Maybe you need a retreat at a fancy hotel where you all try to stump the concierge and the respect level will climb. I think this also may have to do with the underdog professionalism concern so many librarians feel when they don’t have tenure status (and even some when they do!).

    Having said that, I vote for sherpa ; )


    • 9 Chris Bourg January 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Excellent idea about the retreat at a fancy hotel — I’ll run that by the boss and see if he will fund it!
      I think some of the uneasiness with “concierge” was the idea that a concierge does everything for you, without doing any teaching or collaboration.But I kinda like Sherpa too (especially after reading Into Thin Air …).


  1. 1 The Library Concierge Project at Stanford University | The Journal of Creative Library Practice Trackback on June 6, 2013 at 10:47 am
  2. 2 Library Concierge Project: Session 1 | Feral Librarian Trackback on February 29, 2012 at 9:13 am
  3. 3 What’s in a Name? « Zeemanspraat Trackback on January 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm

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