Are we addressing real needs or just offering strawberry frappuccinos? A lesson from Kroger

June 27, 2007, 11:24 am


Yesterday afternoon I went into my local grocery store. I picked up what I needed and moved along to the checkout isle. LONG LINES! They had the self check section, which I like, but most of us had full carts. They only had two lanes open, but each lane had two baggers. Why couldn’t they have cross trained baggers to be cashiers for rush periods?

I could see two other employees messing around with a broken self-serve Georgia Lottery machine… couldn’t they have let that go for a few minutes to open up additional lanes?

I’m sure this happens everyday in every grocery store across the country— but what bothered me is while we were waiting two more employees came out offering strawberry frappuccino samples. Why couldn’t one of them open an additional lane?

Kroger’s priorities didn’t match the customer’s need. Each lane was over six customers deep… we all wanted to purchase goods and be on our way, yet their workflow was not designed to be optimized… not build for congestion. Each employee had their role, their task, and even though a bottleneck emerged, employees stayed within the framework.

I felt something similar last summer when we merged our circulation and reference desks during renovations. On the reference side we didn’t have the software or access privileges to the circ client and hence could not check out books or answer patron account questions. We couldn’t address a large portion of actual needs.

Do patrons really need to know about Boolean and Advanced Searching tactics? Do they need to understand and appreciate peer reviewed journals? Do they even need to know how a library catalog works? I’m not against reference or information literacy, but I just feel our approach and rhetoric (as a profession) might be off-message to our users. Very old-world.

Many libraries claim to be user-centered, but when I talk with librarians or read their blog posts or see their flyers and advertising they still seem to be very library-centered, even very reference-centered. We can’t seem to move beyond "the term paper" mentality.

I don’t know—still working this one out. But I’m starting to think that all I have to offer are strawberry frappuccinos… and missing out on what my patrons really need.

Note: At ALA, Google was made librarians participate in a 4 question online scavenger hunt in order to earn a Google Pin. How lame is that? Note to all vendors— ipods and mp3 players are pretty old now— try and lure us with GPS or iPhones or something cool. Pins? Seriously…

Note 2: Google, please learn who Morrissey is. Gmail has no clue, yet Microsoft Word is down with rock icons.

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