Can I complain about a telephone I bought in Poland? Can I make a complaint about the veterinary fee concerning a lame horse? I have received an invoice for sluicing my cesspool but they haven’t been there at all… am I obliged to pay for their ‘bungling’? Where do I find tests on gas cookkers? How do I remove the vomit stain from a leather sofa? This is just a small sample of some of the inquiries we get at ConsumerINFOpoint at Copenhagen Central Library.
When we got the chance to act as test library, we at Copenhagen Central Library immediately seized the opportunity. We very much wanted to improve our service within the consumer area. We also felt it was an exciting project in terms of trying out a new role as librarian that involved advising and not just making material available to the public.
At our library, ConsumerINFOpoint was established in a co-operation between two departments: Department of Technology and Science and the Reading Room, which together cover the different aspects of the consumer area. Two librarians are in charge of Consumer INFOpoint and this has proved to be an advantage.
Our Consumer INFOpoint is placed in immediate proximity to the reference desk in the Department of Technology and Science. The INFOpoint consists of four shelving sections and a brochure stand containing books, periodicals and brochures dealing with consumer issues, as well as a PC and table and chairs. The materials we use here are more or less materials we already had.We have just extracted them from the existing collections. Previously our consumer periodicals were for example spread out among several hundred alphabetically arranged periodicals. The American Consumer Report was a long way away from the Danish consumer journal Tænk + Test (Think and Test). Placing all the consumer periodicals together has made them more visible and much more popular.
At our library we give advice within three main areas:What to buy, consumer rights and How to make a complaint.
You can contact ConsumerINFOpoint in three different ways: personal approach, by telephone or by mail to our mailbox. Most of the telephone inquiries have not come from our regular borrowers, but have been passed on. The inquiries via Consumer INFOpoint’s mailbox have been few and far between, perhaps because the mailbox is placed on the library’s homepage together with many other services. The questions received here have on the other hand often come from other parts of the country.
More or less all aspects of consumer rights have found their way to us, questions such as: purchase, agreements and services. The complaints have been diverse: faulty goods, people receiving invoices for goods or services that were never requested, inquiries as to whether it is possible to cancel a purchase etc.We have had many telecomplaints. Some complain that the instrument does not work, invoices arrive for services one thinks were paid for several years ago or for services never requested in the first place.We have assisted in interpreting invoices and helped people to understand why in their particular case it is not possible to make a complaint. That you have in fact got what you are entitled to. The inquiries have also been of a preventative character: “How do I make sure, if I wish to…..”.We have had inquiries, too, from traders who want to know specifically what rights the consumer has.
The new librarian role
Consumer information in the library also entails offering actual advice. As libraries we have always made a virtue out of making materials available, whereas an actual interpretation of the information, we tended to leave to other professional groups.
We were – and of course still are – afraid of giving the wrong advice. When we first started, it was rather easier than we had imagined.We feel that with the National Consumer Agency’s courses we are well-equipped to tackle the issues.We are quite humble towards our role as consumer advisers.We have a distinct perception of our limitations, and which queries we can answer. If we are just the least uncertain, we contact the Consumer Agency’s hotline which is very efficient. We get an expert answer the following day at the latest.When we haven’t been able to give the borrower an answer on the spot, it has not seemed as if he/she regretted not having approached the Consumer Agency directly.
The borrowers have felt that we provided a good service by acting on their behalf. And as we have been able to get the expert answer in such a short time, we have preserved our credibility in relation to the borrowers. They have felt that we did something extra for them. It seems that the libraries’ image as a neutral body quite clearly contributes to the fact that the borrowers feel they can safely approach us with consumer questions.
We have always received consumer questions here at Copenhagen Central Library.We have always found tests for the borrowers, and we have always referred the borrowers to the complaints authorities. As to complaints we go one step further – we help the borrowers with the actual formulation of the complaint.
As a librarian it has been satisfying to move into another sphere. One thing is to find the information, another to be able to advise.We have given the borrowers copies of rules and decisions, and that has often produced the desired effect and made the traders change their practice. In this way we have got some happy borrowers who often come back on their own accord to tell us about the outcome of the case, and once the librarian even received a bouquet of flowers!
Translated by Vibeke Cranfield