Why Your Library Should Do One on One Appointments

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.

  • It Is What You Make It

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.

20 thoughts on “Why Your Library Should Do One on One Appointments

  1. At UIC-Health Sciences, the reference staff do a lot of one on one sessions with our patrons. Mostly for research, learning database, citation management, less for computer skills. I wonder if that’s something that is more prevalent at academic libraries than at public libraries? I ended up doing one on one when I was at public but more because I could squeeze in the time, less because it was a service we encouraged.

  2. One-on-one assistance is easily my favorite part of the job. The participants are almost always very motivated and have a good idea of what they want to learn. It also gives me the chance to manage my calendar better. I usually schedule two-hour time slots, and do at least six hours per week. I’m obviously not catching everybody, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable two hours.

  3. I actually had to write a paper this past Spring for an observation of a reference department. At first I was shocked that they had no librarians at the reference desk, only students assistants. The librarians do one-on-one appointments and it seemed to work wonders. Every library is different, but it’s certainly worth a try!

  4. We’ve had a lot of success with this. We also started with jobseekers and the occasional patron who found our basic computer class too advanced, but are now expanding this fall to include one on one gadget help for digital cameras, smart phones, or whatever. It’s a great service.

  5. I agree. But with a caveat- your service needs to be seen as a service that libraries provide. I have exp. providing peripheral ( to librarianship) services and having those services used against me: you have time to do this ( non-library activity) so we can cut hours.

    And I am totally against librarianless reference desks- triage is fine, but a professional needs to be there.

  6. Going to start doing one on one computer appointments for patrons this fall. Had low turnout for classes, but people stopping in all the time (many with laptops in hand looking for assistance or asking when the next class was.. though now one was showing up when I did have them… go figure!)..

    Anyway, for many of the reasons you point out I am thinking this will be something that really fits in with our patrons needs, wants and schedules

    • The alternative to a class would be to have calling hours or time dedicated during the week to people coming in with their laptops on a ‘first come first served’ basis. You may need to train people to try to accept those hours and just improv it from there.

  7. I’m thinking this would be an excellent idea to formalize at the high school level as well. We do it informally but I love the idea of an appointment. Even if not many students access it at first, it certainly sends a message that librarians are there to provide service and that students are important.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Interesting! We just started one on one computer sessions this week at my public library. We scheduled 30 min sessions with our reference staff from 10-4pm 3 days a week . It was very popular and the sessions filled quickly. With my sessions I found that 30 minutes was not enough time, I think we’ll have to talk about extending the time. The other thing that came up was several patrons who want to book time every day. Do you have any limits on booking appointments?

  9. We’ve only advertised it in our main libraries (all branches had a memo but who knows if anyone took notice), as it’s not easy to get press releases allowed and posters are not well liked by bosses. I try to get staff to mention it when someone has a query but not sure that’s done.

  10. I work in a small, public library. We started offering 45-minute one-on-one computer skills lessons last year. Customers had to schedule in advance. We didn’t really publicize it, but staff would mention it when customers came in needing extra assistance. Out of a reference staff of five only two of us were willing to teach the one-on-one. However, over time, the one-on-one sessions stopped. I think because we were not promoting them enough. Because there was no lack in requests for assistance on the computer.

    I decided to launch a formal class this spring. We advertised through fliers and posters inside the library. I was the only one interested in teaching group classes. I developed a curriculum and taught a 3-week course that included basic computer skills, internet, and email. It was very popular. I taught three sessions over the spring & summer. I could only accept up to ten people per class due to limited computer availability. My biggest frustration were the no-shows though. I would have ten people registered and then six would show up. And that is after having 15+ people express interest each session.

    This post is very helpful to me. I took a break from offering the classes, because 1) our library is scheduled to close for renovation … someday soon…we were supposed to close a couple of months ago, and 2) I am re-evaluating how to offer the computer training sessions going forward. I am still the only reference staff person really passionate about this though. I definitely want to continue with the group format, but also implement the one-on-one sessions again too.

    – How many staff teach these lessons at your library?
    – How did you go about preparing a curriculum?
    – Do you only teach what you are familiar with?

  11. Pingback: “I came to the library to get information, not to have a conversation with the librarian,” or “the user experience in the library” | A Searching Librarian

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