Suggestion Answer Book Goes Digital

Posted by jlubans on March 10, 2011

As readers of Leading from the Middle know, the book’s capstone chapter (#36) details the history of the Suggestion Answer Book as a handy mechanism for getting feedback from library users.

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Insert image. I founded, wrote and edited Suggestion Answer Books - several thousand pages all told - at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the University of Houston–Downtown College and at Duke University’s Perkins Library.

After I left Duke, the SA Book continued, remaining a safe harbor for the beleaguered library user, a way to set us straight, a medium to communicate one person’s insights and concerns to the anonymous someone in the administration.

In my run as the Answer Person with hundred of my previous responses on display in a very public three ring binder, the user knew action would be taken to right wrong policies and procedures, or if no action were taken, the reader would be told why.

And, importantly, I deliberately edited my responses to be welcoming, and, as often as not, wry and whimsical. Humor added, it seems, the right touch to keep passing readers interested, amused and coming back for more.

That tone also assured the reader that no comment or question would be dismissed as “stupid” – a not unusual anxiety on a campus brimming at times with an intellectual hubris that could infect any full-of-himself librarian.

The recent retirement of the third-in-line mystery answer person prompted a front-page story in The Herald Sun (the hometown newspaper for Duke University) on February 15. An explanatory letter to the editor from my immediate successor (Answer Person #2) followed on February 19.

Today's blog suggests (pardon me!) that open user feedback systems are highly effective; they empower the reader, and help libraries maintain their high standard of service (or in modern terms, are invaluable in providing the best customer service we can deliver.)

While I think the loose leaf notebook in the library’s lobby offered something that the digital version can only attempt to approximate, an e-SA Book is still a positive way for those of us working in large libraries to hear from and communicate with the user, that all important client we seek to serve.

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