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Students as Customers

By Tom Claydon, on 18 February 2015

I attended the CPD25 Event ‘Students as Customers’ on the afternoon of 14th January.

The first presentation, ‘From customers to consultants, the evolving role of students’ was delivered by Angela Brady, from Aston University. This presentation focussed on consulting students in order to provide a service that best suits their needs. Angela made it very clear that this does not equal acquiescing to all student demands, but hearing these demands, and then applying the professional judgement of Library staff.

Aston implemented a comprehensive consultation scheme (students were remunerated for their participation) covering ‘environmental’ questions; food, phones, litter, heating and ventilation, use of building(s), and refurbishment. And ‘collection’ matters’; reading lists, availability of books, computers and laptops, guides, opening hours, fines and reservations. They even included students in the preparation of the tender for overnight security, and currently include a student representative on the interview panels for frontline staff. Radical.

One key problem identified was how wasteful the reserve (recall/request here) system was. Many books are reserved and never collected, and are therefore needlessly out of circulation.

The usual grumbles were raised (“Why isn’t there a copy for everyone on the course” “Other people should return books I request but I shouldn’t have to return books they request” – that kind of thing). Students appear to fail to understand the Library as a communal resource.

Using some clever group consultation techniques, students were shown that their hopeless study techniques (borrow books then ignore them till three days before deadline) were not unique, but entirely commonplace, hence the competition for resources at given times.

The Library implemented the following as a result:

  • Borrowers only fined on books that are reserved
  • Fines (on overdue reserved items) raised to £3.50 per day
  • Fines applied to all borrowers of a requested book until a copy is returned
  • Borrowers are advised to return a copy then reserve it, rather than hanging on to it


  • Over the year, fines income dropped by 50%
  • The number of reservations was consistent with the previous year
  • More than 50% more reservations were actually used/collected
  • Hold period cut to three days


Next, Alison Philips of Westminster discussed the Disability Buddy Scheme at Westminster.

This is an excellent idea, trialled this (2014) year. Ten 2nd year ‘buddies’ matched up with 10 new students with disabilities to help them with orientation week; campus and resources familiarisation and so on.

It proved very successful, but it was thought that there is a need to develop a more sophisticated selection process for buddies. The students who were helped by the buddies generally gave positive feedback, and the buddies were keen to do it again, and interest/demand is expected to rise.

With the DSA cuts universities are going to have to provide more disability support from their own budgets in future.


At the end of the afternoon a brief discussion took place, the key points raised therein were:

  • A good alternative to fines is the ‘block’ system, whereby if a book is returned, say, three days late, the user’s account will be blocked for the next three days.
  • The hold (reserve/recall/request) system is wasteful pretty much everywhere
  • Where Customer Service Excellence accreditation was initiated, staff really engaged with it in a very enthusiastic manner

And the big question remains; how do we adapt and become a part of forming the new role that students now occupy, as customer and student. We aren’t Amazon or Next. But we aren’t the ‘free’ educational resource we once were. The new role is not yet set. What are we as Librarians going to contribute to the creation of this new custudent?


Tom Claydon

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