Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Outsourcing: Yay or Nay.

Picture this scene:

Just past 3pm, on a warm Indian summer September our heroine, sits at a red light, with NPR quietly playing in the background. Her mobile ear piece is attached to her right here, her planner open on her lap. She punches through her contacts list and makes a call.

A woman with a slight accent answers, "Dr. Doctor's answering service. How can I help you?" Our heroine inwardly groans, her second attempt to make an appointment is thwarted yet again by the answering service. The lady advises our girl the office will not be open again until Monday and she politely responds that she would like to receive a call back when the office is open. The customer service representative seems slightly annoyed, going over the hours again, expressing she will have to wait until Monday. Our heroine acknowledges this, thinking that the callback will serve as a reminder to make the appointment even if she misses the call, and if she has waited this long to make the appointment, how long will she have to wait to see the Doctor. Sheesh, she thinks.

Our heroine ends the call after giving her name and phone number, and closes her address book. She decides not to call Dr. Her Other Doctor , as this was just exhausting. She arrives home and lists a few things on ebay and craigslist, thereby crossing a few things off on her to-do list. After those tasks are completed, she lounges in bed nursing a small bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream and watching Izzie perform surgery with a hand drill while McDreamy searches for Meredith. There is no time for the nap she was hoping to take before returning to work.

The to-do list is filled with simple tasks that sometimes take much longer to complete than they should. Scheduling appointments, inquiring about rates, checking the weather, listing items for sale, answering emails, finding recipes. All this sort of busy work that gets in the way of daily life. Gosh, wouldn't it be great to hire someone for five hours a week to take care of these tasks for me, freeing up my time to focus on work or leisure. I found myself thinking of the The 4-Hour Workweek (which I have placed on hold at my library), and how we can hire personal assistants to take care of tasks in our lives.

Lifehacker posted about the case for personal outsourcing, and invited users to comment about the practice of outsourcing tasks in their lives. While clicking through and wondering how I might locate a personal assistant company, I came across GetFriday, a firm in Banglore India that I can hire for as little as $120 a month for 12 hours. There are pay-as-you-go plans as well as a task based plan. What do they do you may be wondering:
  • Online research for updating blogs
  • Reading bedtime stories to a young child on phone
  • Get an authenticated weather forecast and weather report for a particular time in a particular place on a particular day, five years ago. This was to be used as supportive evidence for a law suit
  • Posting job vacancies on the web
  • Educational research for 8-year-old (on behalf of his father)
Wow. Sounds like they do it all and more. Sounds like they could potentially be doing the work of librarians. So much of what we do is the personal touch, the face to face interaction, reading the body and face for clues, asking questions. Libraries are democratic institutions open to the people. I have researched stock prices from years ago, helped children research touch screen technologies, looked up phone numbers and provided directions at no cost to my patrons. Oh, and there are days when I feel like a patron's assistant. I often think about the value add in library services and the cost of the services we provide. I like this estimated cost calculator from Central Massachusetts Regional Library System. I can enter in my use of library services for a month and see what the value of services is. Perhaps we could end every reference with a friendly reminder of how much we are saving our patrons, "Alright, so here is the most recent review of desktop computers from Consumer Reports printed from a database, and your savings is $10.50." Because really, we are not giving our customers something for nothing.

I was having a similar discussion this morning with a friend, regarding fee 411 services. Google offers a free 411 service, as well as Free 411. I haven't tried Google's yet, but Free 411 has a 30 second or so advertisement before your information is provided. 411 costs $1.49, plus airtime with Verizon Wireless. Outsourcing, free vs. fee all come down to a matter of "how much is my time worth?" which is a very personal question that has many different answers. I also feel somewhat suspect that when you add a cost to a service, the value is almost automatic. I paid for this so I must be getting value out of it. Would library services and reference work be more valued if there was an invoice attached to each interaction? Are library services taken for granted because they are "free"?

Oh, and our heroine? Her doctor's office called back the next day for an appointment, at the end of October. And she participates in some outsourcing, on a local level. She still makes her own appointments and does her own research.

1 comment:

SaxTeacher said...

Re: telling the library patron the value of the services they received during this visit; if you ever go to AAA to get free road maps or travel advice, they do exactly that - present you with a printed statement at the end of the visit, showing the value of the stuff they gave you - even though it is all included in your annual membership. I guess they decided it makes their members feel they are getting their money's worth - and more likely to pay the $80 per year when the renewal statement arrives!