It seems like the news is filled with more and more stories about automated customer service. Virtual assistants, apps that answer your questions, chatbots that designers swear act and sound like humans-there’s a large premium being put on building artificial intelligence that can answer questions, and mimic the experience of talking to a real person.
Queens Library has a better solution: real people who are helpful, understanding, welcoming, speak multiple languages, and know how to find the answers to almost anything. Queens Library didn’t invent it, but we probably perfected the art.
From my desk on the first floor of Central Library and during my frequent visits to community libraries, I talk to library users about why they are visiting the library. They readily share what they are looking for. It can be anything from getting help using computers, to finding information about a serious medical diagnosis for a loved one, to looking for information about gnats for a child’s school science project, to getting reading recommendations. Queens Library’s staff is brilliant at zeroing in on just what is needed, and helping the customer access it, whether it is an online resource or in a book. In a survey we conducted recently, staff assistance ranked as one of the most important reasons that people come to the library. Queens Library’s staff truly love working with the community, and it shows. They even answer questions you are not sure how to ask: “My daughter read all the Harry Potter books. Now she wants to read something that’s like Harry Potter, but not exactly like it, with less magic. Know what I mean?”
Our talented staff answered three million questions from library customers last year. All you need to do is walk in the door. Even when you can’t, you can ask questions via text, chat, email, and phone. Go to www.queenslibrary.org/ask-a-librarian anytime or dial 718-990-0714. Reference service is available in Spanish and Chinese through the web page, too.
And if the subject of computer-assisted research versus human research interests you, borrow the classic film, “Desk Set” with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey, available from Queens Library. You’ll love it.
Dennis M. Walcott, President and CEO, Queens Library