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:
- (River) Guide
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”:
- 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.
- 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.
- They work collaboratively with scholars, contributing their particular expertise to a project as a colleague.
- They provide seamless and efficient access to the very broad array of services and resources offered by the libraries.
- 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) …