Evanston Public Library has a new desk. Last July, library staff brought in thirteen volunteer concierges to greet library patrons entering the lobby, field questions, and answer the phones. Head of Circulation Jose Maldonado remembered when Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons approached him with the idea: “[Lyons] and I realized we both had an interest in having a greeting service at the library. We wanted to bring a warm presence right to the front of the building.” They agreed that positioning friendly, knowledgeable volunteers in the foyer could help make the library more welcoming and better distribute responsibilities among the staff.
The concierges have already surpassed their duties in the greeting service Lyons and Maldonado imagined. Data on the concierges show that their responsibilities include answering telephones, providing directions, assisting with the copier, assisting with self-check of library materials, referring patrons to staff, answering non-library questions, searching the Internet, and assisting with the online catalogue. Together, the concierge staff speaks six different languages, opening possibilities to direct library patrons in Spanish and Mandarin.
“These people can’t get flustered easily,” Volunteer Coordinator Mary Kling said, “because they have to deal with a bit of everything.”
Concierge Carole Skalinder’s favorite part of the job is its variety. “There’s no typical shift,” she said. “I meet people who come to the library for classes, for programming, or sometimes just for warmth. On my downtime, I learn more by reading the library website.” Maldonado emphasized that the proactive attitude of the concierges is what has made the program successful. Kling remembered a time when she found concierge Sheila McGuire (pictured above) holding a woman’s baby so that the mother could put something away in her bag. “That was a neat little service the concierge probably didn’t know she would be providing,” Kling said.
In addition to helping people who visit the library, the concierges also answer the phones. Data from October shows that concierges answered 837 phone calls. “All of those calls would’ve been fielded by circulation,” Maldonado said. “The fact that they’re able to get those phone calls out right away and shoot them to the right departments has been a great help and success for the staff.”
Kling, who was in charge of recruiting the concierges, found that the hiring process was easy. “Everyone who responded to our position description was wonderful”, she said. “My job is great because I never have to sell people on the benefits of the library.”
Skalinder found the position on the library website. “I’m a recently retired teacher from District 65, and when I retired, I looked on the city website for volunteer opportunities,” she said. “This just popped right out at me.”
Kling said that many people were attracted to the position because it allowed them to both problem-solve and interact with people. Most applicants were residents of Evanston, but some had moved into Chicago and one had just moved to town and was looking for a way to be more involved. Maldonado led the training process, which involved a library tour, an exploration of the library’s website, and a review of some internal documents.
Maldonado and Kling both hope to expand the program as it moves forward. Maldonado hopes that upcoming renovations to the library will include a permanent concierge desk built in front. He also said that having a librarian filling the concierge position some of the time would “be a great asset in terms of their knowledge and research abilities.” For now, he is happy with the progress the program has made and the people who have made it possible.
“I hear from people about this program on a regular basis,” Skalinder said. “Mostly they tell me, ‘This is so nice that you guys are here.’”