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Customer service is more than a goal...more than an ideal...and more than the jargon of the ‘90s. It is, in its most basic form, good business practice. Whether a business is profit or non-profit, with products that are tangible or intangible, customer service is the axis around which all other operations must revolve. It is a focus on the customer service that must drive the design of today’ s continuing education programs and those of the twenty-first century; it is the focus on the customer that will be a key factor in whether continuing professional [library] education [and, therefore, libraries] survives--and thrives--in the new millennium.
These are straightforward statements, and ones with which most everyone would agree. Therefore, if customers are essential to a continuing education experience, why is it that a focus on the customer is not always central to program design? This paper focuses on both attributes of customers and elements of program design. The merging of these two components can produce a continuing education experience that is meaningful and effective. Who Is the Continuing Library Education Customer?
While the answer to this question may seem obvious, it is important to stress that everyone who works in a library is such a customer. Because societies around the world are facing a rate of change that is unprecedented in human history--and information is becoming an essential commodity integral to this change--libraries are being required to be the link between that information and the present and potential users. This rapidly changing environment of libraries requires that all staff members become and remain absolutely current in their knowledge, skills and attitudes. This requirement is no longer simply a desirable outcome; rather, it is now a mandate. However, before effective continuing education can be designed, the customer for that education must be determined and needs clearly identified. Customers share some characteristics in common; awareness of these characteristics can assist programmers to create more relevant types of educational activities. One theoretical construct that may shed light on these shared characteristics is known by the term “stage theories.” This construct suggests that all human beings pass through a series of developmental stages that are roughly tied to certain approximate age ranges. The relationship between age ranges and stages is only loosely defined; the age at which individuals reach various stages will be influenced by personal differences, life experience, and other possible factors. However, the stage theory concept can inform a programmer’s understanding of the customers that a potential program is being designed to reach. Several models of stage theories have been proposed by a number of well-respected theorists, including Gould, Levinson, Vaillant, Erikson, and Neugarten.
Building upon this research the concept of stages was popularized by Sheehy in the best-selling book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. Recently, Sheehy has updated her work in a new book, New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, revising her original perspective to more closely relate to today’s society. The following synthesis of the adult years illustrates the overall pattern of thought behind the concept of stage theory