What Can Libraries and Archives Learn from SoulCycle?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with SoulCycle, the indoor cycling class that uses hand weights and choreography to create a full-body workout. I started attending to manage the stress of writing my second book and stayed because I loved the results. Regular attendance has made me realize that SoulCycle’s ethos can be applied to libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions.

Customer service is key to the brand’s cult like following and celebrity clientele. People are willing to pay premium prices — $34 for a 45-minute class — because the studios feel clubby without being cliquey. SoulCycle staff members are purveyors of positivity, bringing tremendous energy to the class and challenging people to better themselves. Classes taught by the most popular instructors sell out within minutes.

Why do I ride and not, say, go to the gym and run on the treadmill? Because I want to have an experience that is beyond exercise. I want to feel better about myself.

That’s the reason why I visit the New York Public Library’s research rooms. I could satisfice my information needs using Google at home, but I want to study, while feeling chic and smart as I breeze past stunning Beaux-Arts design to enter the Art & Architecture Room. Imagine how much better that experience would be if I got a warm greeting and smile from the person working behind the reference desk!

When I first started riding at SoulCycle, I assumed everyone was friends because the instructors would call out people’s names in class. When I became a regular, I was praised too, even if I hadn’t introduced myself to the instructor. He or she simply recognized my face, looked at the roster, and learned my name. That small effort made a huge difference in how I felt in class.

This action made me think about how cultural institutions treat their users. At its core, information work is customer service work. Our primary responsibility as LIS professionals is to serve our community. As much as I am a proponent of the authority of the individual, cultural institutions have the responsibility to design the environment so that patrons receive a transformative experience. To quote information architect Gene Smith,

There’s a simple and compelling economic argument in factor of design over training: design is a one-time investment; training is an ongoing investment over the life of the product.

SoulCycle has created a setting that maximizes good feelings, making it easier for its staff to deliver a quality experience. I’m unsure what exactly the company does to consistently put their customers first, but I do know that customer service is built into its design. No doubt, I’ll be thinking about this — and how libraries and archives can mimic SoulCycle’s methods — as I sweat it out in the front row of my next class.

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