The staff need to understand that not everyone who comes into the library knows how the system works. Freshmen paying their first visit to the large university library, recent immigrants, or people new to the neighborhood may be overwhelmed. Yet, each one represents an opportunity for the library to show it has something to offer. One of the authors assigned a class of students to ask acquaintances unfamiliar with a particular library to locate a specific book or periodical article.
Most of the acquaintances were flummoxed. If they understood that the computers contained the public catalog, and not all did, they did not know where to go to find the item they had identified because the online catalog did not provide this information. Maps showing where items with particular call numbers were shelved, if they existed, were not located near the computer terminals. The people looking for a specific article fared even worse because they did not understand the need for a relevant periodical database.
We typically expect customers to be self-sufficient by now, but many are not. Nor can we expect that they will ask for help when the staff seem busy or preoccupied. Librarians need to remember the old saying, “You have only one chance to make a first impression.” Make first visits memorable but not for the wrong reasons.