Chris G’s service safari to H&R Block really got me thinking about how we can ease the pain of “necessary evil” user experiences. In the case of libraries, one of these would be paying overdue fines. Shameful confession: in the excitement of research papers and science fairs recently, my kids have accrued some overdue book fines, so I decided to make my journey to my local library to pay them. Normally I prefer to do that online rather than make a special trip, but it seemed like a good opportunity to see how the library handles a less-fun user experience. Some users will not feel comfortable using an online system to pay fines, so it is important for libraries to handle this well in person.
Realistic Journey Map
I found that the library handled this pretty well. I presumed that library members may be a little anxious or stressed when paying overdue fines–not intensely so, but it is a task most people would prefer not to have. I was pleasantly surprised at how it was handled, although I did find a few places for improvement.
First I went to the library website to check branch hours and to find information about paying overdue fines. This was one of the areas that could be improved. Branch hours were easy enough to find, but under the “How do I” section of the website I found only “Pay my fines/fees online.” People who wish to pay in person may not think this applies to them. The information that you can also pay in person is buried in a paragraph on the “Pay my fines/fees online” page. There is probably an assumption that “everyone” knows you pay fines at the circulation desk, but this may not actually be true of all library users.
Driving to the library and parking was fine. As I walked in, I saw two people ahead of me helping each other with the doors and smiling and exchanging greetings. This gave me a good feeling about the friendliness of the place. I held the door and also exchanged greetings with the person behind me. This gave the impression of the library as a friendly community place. Although the library doesn’t control all patron behavior, they certainly set the tone for the library and influence the general behavior of patrons.
I went to the circulation desk (I thought it was a reasonable assumption that a person with overdue fines would already know where the circulation desk was–in any case, it is very prominent on the left as soon as you walk in). The one problem here is that the circulation area is mostly self-check stations, and the staffed desk is somewhat hidden, furthest from the door. The staff member sits behind a tall desk and if the self-check stations are busy may be blocked from the entering patron’s view. There are no signs to indicate “Circulation” or “Pay Fines” here.
There was one person ahead of me so I did not have to wait very long. Several people happened to come in right behind me and a second staff member came out from the library office to help with the sudden influx.
The librarian I spoke to was friendly and pleasant, as well as matter of fact. People may feel slightly embarrassed paying fines so it is important for librarians to set them at their ease. She was discreet by turning her screen slightly and showing me the amount on the screen, which would be a nice gesture for people with very high fines who were embarrassed about it. She was also able to combine both fees from the boys’ cards into one transaction (which you cannot do in the online fine system). While running my card there was a very small delay which she explained, saying “I’m just waiting for the one you need to sign.” When finished, she smiled and said “There, you’re all set!”
I had allowed about 10-15 minutes for this task and actually I was in and out within 5 minutes. I was pleased with how quick and efficient it was, with the librarian’s pleasant demeanor, so this was mainly a positive journey.
Improved Journey Map
There were two main areas where the library could improve. The website information could be more clearly presented. Navigation should clearly indicate information about paying fines by any method, and the fines page itself should be updated to provide information for both methods of payment. The page should be written better for the web with headings, bullet list for accepted methods of payment and so on. (Not relevant to my journey map but interesting to note is that the information for paying fees online tells users to “click the My Account button.” This page could be improved by providing a direct link within the content of the page.)
The furniture arrangement and signage for the circulation area could be improved to make it more clear where you go for help, and to make the staff seem more approachable. On the whole, however, this “necessary evil” was well handled by the library.