After my post about teaching computer basics, one of the comments reminded me of another service that I offer at my library that I love to do: one on one assistance. Initially, it started as something specifically for people needing help with their unemployment and job hunting. Whether it was writing a resume or brainstorming new search strategies, I would sit down with a patron for thirty to sixty minutes and focus on the help that they needed. Over time, I extended to computer help and now I offer assistance with anything. (Ok, nearly anything within knowledge and reason, but I’m not topic limited anymore.)
The good thing about one-on-one style help is that it is nothing new to libraries nor is it limited by library types. Research consultations at the academic level and individualized instruction at the school level already embrace the benefits of one on one sessions. But if you are working at a library that doesn’t do one on one or considers it unfeasible, I have some reasons for you to consider (or reconsider) offering it.
- Time (and Staffing) Went Spent
For one on one sessions, it works at any library size level. Even if your library is small enough not to offer group computer classes, all you need is a single computer and two chairs. In accepting appointments, you can block off time so you can adjust staffing and coverage accordingly. In a pinch, that person can be asked to help out with a major issue or deal with a problem. The bottom line is that it can work within staff schedules and not tie them up for undue periods of time.
- Personal Tailored Sessions
In setting up the appointment, staff can determine what help they need and what their skill level is. In prepping for the session (if any is required), they can try to meet those needs as well as presenting it in a manner that is appropriate for the patron. In focusing on the individual, a topic can be presented in the most approachable way. As the session progresses, changes can be made on the fly to accommodate questions and/or further needs.
In addition, it puts a staff member in a more casual context with the patron where they can open up about the topic. Unlike the group setting, people will be more frank about their questions or issues in the one on one setting. This further deepens the connection and allows me to teach towards their strengths and issues.
- Increases the Number of Computer Topics Offered for Instruction
For groups, I teach a basic computer class, an email one, an internet searching, and a Facebook class at the moment. (I’m going to offer Google Plus in the fall.) For the individual, I offer the same topics as well as teaching Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft Office, and other internet odds and ends. I could offer these other topics as group classes, but I haven’t had much interest from my community to sustain it as a regular group offering. In offering it as a one-on-one session, I keep all the preparation that I did for those classes and be able to say that it is one of the topics we offer instruction on at the library.
- Just Plain Good Customer Service
To me, it is advocacy and marketing all rolled into one as a hidden layer to the session. It allows me to put a face on the library for the patron, to make one more slightly deeper connection in the community, and gives me chances to mention other materials and services as they apply to the session. It’s a very soft sell style, for certain, but it lets me throw out something they might not know about. Furthermore, the one on one sessions offer something that is heavily advertised in parts of the retail world: personalized attention. With all of the automation and technology out there, the one on one sessions take it in the other direction by giving someone your full effort. In a world where a common complaint is how impersonal it is, it really makes a difference.
While I call it one on one help, I’ve helped people in pairs (friends, business partners) and even a trio (a group of local YA authors). The key strength and ultimate selling point is the flexibility of the classes. It can accommodate tough schedules, little or no budget, and any level of computer skill or need. It allows me to take a request for help, fit it into my duties and scheduling, and meet the need. I don’t simply tell people I don’t have time to help them at the computer when they ask for something that is complicated; I tell them that I don’t have time right now to do so and ask them if they would be interested in an appointment. It becomes a personal challenge to see if I can help them with their topic or get them to make an appointment.
One on one appointments work because they offer individual and tailored attention, expand the number of instruction topics, and create the opportunity to make a deeper connection with a library patron.
If your library doesn’t offer these sessions, I would encourage them to do so and I’d be willing to help answer any questions or concerns as it relates to this service. You can leave a comment here or contact me through Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus as found on the right sidebar of this blog.
That’s right. I’m offering a one on one session about one on one sessions. Because I believe anyone can do it.