Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Libraries – power, joy and passion.

January 23, 2010


I unabashedly love libraries…all kinds of libraries!  Big libraries, small libraries, old libraries, new libraries and public libraries as well as school libraries.

In several conversations over the past few weeks about libraries, I realized that most people spoke from quite differing viewpoints. There were positions for or against different formats, different customer service ideals, different expectations concerning funding sources, overdue fines, bestsellers, computer usage….you name it. Nearly anything that could be viewed differently…was viewed differently. I left the conversations with a nagging uncertainty. How could there be so many different ways to think about the role of libraries?

I realized that I understood why I loved libraries. I know why I am a passionate believer in the power and joy that libraries can bring to people’s lives. But maybe, many other people had a library experience that was quite different than mine. Those personal life experiences about libraries give then their own unique understanding,  perspective and values.

My love of libraries has been influenced by a number of experiences during my life. As an early elementary student – the county bookmobile stopped in our neighborhood, on our street. With no nearby library and no 2nd family vehicle, the rolling library brought far away places and people right to me.  The arrival of the big, noisy, smelly,  black bus, brought yells of excitement and a mad dash home to get our library cards. Stepping inside and seeing all those books and getting to take two home to read and then return again for more adventures a week later was pure magic. Would it be a Hardy Boys mystery and maybe a book about some wild animal or outdoor adventure? During the summer, those new books were sure to mean a few late nights with the flashlight under the covers.

The bookmobile was followed by our school library. A K-8 private school – with a small, lovingly created collection. Compared to the bookmobile, the options seemed unlimited. For the first time, I saw encyclopedias and dictionaries and amazing nonfiction to do homework assignments with. The big, real world was there in those pages.

High school brought an even larger collection. Remember a time when reference was the dominant part of high school collections? No internet, no google – just print reference. Anything you needed to know were in those pages. Granted – it took hours and sometimes days, but it was in there. Then came a college library in the 70’s that seemed like a warehouse filled with the world’s knowledge. Those old, musty books, the quiet spaces, the decades old single carrels tucked away – seemingly locked away from the rest of the world. Endless days spent exploring, thinking and writing in the world of science, literature, philosophy and more. Group projects meant, index cards, stacks of books, quiet debate and mountains of yellow legal pads of hand scratched notes – the words, numbers and scribbles that occasionally evolved into stories, or projects to be proud of.

As a twenty something trying to make it on my own – working, having fun, learning about life – I moved 4-5 times chasing career opportunities. Each new city or town had a library that offered advice and information as I tried to learn and become a better manager and professional as well as just getting acclimated in a new community. In my 30’s, marriage and family brought the joy of the bedtime story. There is nothing better than a new stack of picture books from the library and having an infant or toddler on your lap turning the pages and loving the moment.

As a professional traveling and working with both school and public libraries, I continue to see all the magic in those rooms and buildings filled with information, computers, librarians and customers and students – all in search of sharing and or receiving the power and joy that libraries offer. I am especially encouraged to see how many libraries, school and public, are moving to further enhance their sense of community and personal interaction. It is no longer just about the content – increasingly it is about the people connections. As the world gets “flatter” and we can interact with people and places from around the globe in an instant, our libraries offer unique opportunities for learning, sharing and engagement in our local and expanded communities. I understand we have many problems: funding, staffing, changing technologies, leadership challenges and increasing competition. But all of those problems have solutions.

Maybe it’s time we stop and take the time to ask questions and really listen to each other.  We all have a library story to tell. It is within these life experiences that our passion for libraries resides. Maybe it’s time we ask: staff, customers, local government leaders, school educators and especially our kids to explain why – “Libraries are important to me because…?” From these stories come our passion for library advocay. Let’s talk…. and listen.

Maybe it is within these shared stories and understanding that we will find our common ground, the new ideas and the courage to solve our many challenges. Passion always triumphs over fear.

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Awareness Test – video. School or Public Library – Are You Really Paying Attention?

March 18, 2008

Most libraries – school and public – can be incredibly busy. Books, customers, teachers, students, circulation desk, computers, meddling directors or principals and the list goes on. So when do you take the time to really understand what is going on in your library? When do you take the time to talk to your students or customers to find out what they really want? What would they like us to change, to add, to make go away? What new books, materials, services, or programs can help to make your library great!?

I know, you think you really do try and find those things out. But if you are busy, and I know most of us are….do you really pay attention???

Watch the video – listen and follow the directions.

“Paying attention” – it’s about the student’s or customer’s point of view, not ours. Take some time today, do a real walk around. Pause to really look at your library using your customer’s/student’s “eyes”. Talk to a few customers or students.  Ask a new student or customer to your library to walk around with you and tell you what they see. Ask a few questions…..and listen. What are they really telling you?

Be Brave!  Be Great!

The video is brought to us by Seth Godin.

A response to: The Vanishing Librarians

February 20, 2008

I have decided I would weigh in on what is sure to be a contentious article by John Berry at  The comments that follow the article are already thoughtful and articulate. The rhetoric is surely turned up a notch as well. Here is the link: The Vanishing Librarians – by John Berry

If I understand correctly, some key points that John makes are:

  • Library positions are being dumbed down or as he says “deskilled”.
  • Libraries are being “managed” by successful business types from various industries, with backgrounds like: retail, academia, fund-raising or law rather than “professional librarians”.
  • Historical library functions like cataloging, circulation desk positions, the reference desk and heaven forbid – the “sacred” role of materials selection, have all come under assault due to automated systems, outside vendor services and cuts to staffing.
  • The success indicators of libraries have become measured in things like “products collected by patrons  now called “customers”” rather than the “usefulness or impact of the service on the quality of life”.
  • His surprise at how librarians are standing by without raising alarm or concern at the “erosion of standards”.
  • And the subtitle of the article: “The library becomes a dehumanized supermarket or a chaotic bookstore”.

Without any mention of the following issues, I am unclear whether Mr. Berry takes into consideration some of my observations over the last 6-7 years after being in hundreds of school and public libraries.

In many – but not all – libraries, I would make the following general trend observations:

  • General library funding has remained flat or is decreasing while all general expense items: materials, payroll, related benefits, utilities, and general maintenance costs have risen putting a real squeeze on all resources.
  • Collections are generally becoming dated – with a considerable amount of the nonfiction materials becoming obsolete.
  • As staffing levels are cut – general service levels to “customers”, including open hours have declined.
  • Computer technology for customers, both hardware and software remains behind the curve: both computing speeds and software functionality isn’t keeping up with the general public’s own computing resources.
  • Most libraries are dreadful at marketing (telling customers) about their available materials and services. Libraries have been slow to consider or to use the new technology, low to no cost, marketing strategies that are being used by small and big companies and nonprofit organizations.
  • Many small library websites are generally: low content, outdated and lacking in any of the modern service based internet features most customers now use and take for granted. Things like: customer reviews, customer based rankings, two way conversations and most importantly appealing, effective, promotion of products and services.
  • Many libraries are not operating in the 24/7 “always on” world like many other commercial ventures that customers now expect. We have instant messaging, next day overnight,  streaming video rentals, drive through anything and nearly instantaneous news from anywhere in the world. The world seems to be turning very quickly these days. I can’t say the same thing about many libraries.

I would argue that at least some libraries are failing to keep up with the needs of their customers based on some real issues and challenges they face. Other libraries have found a way to move forward.

In light of my observations, I continue to be amazed at how some librarians are so resistant to change. I respect the sacredness of the work that good librarians do. However, when librarians fail to update their own skills and stay abreast of the current developments and improved functioning of libraries – some of the shine comes off that “luster”. I am confident that those craftsmen and artists who painstakingly hand wrote and illustrated the manuscripts and written volumes of the middle 1400’s decried that dreadful printing press as it became prevalent. Or how about that pesky, “how dare they take away our card catalog” debate that librarians had.

With scarce funds, wouldn’t a library be negligent in their responsibility and use of taxpayer funding if they didn’t:

  • Pursue efficiencies related to basic operations: circulation,  cataloging and more.
  • Look for “best available” ways to offer services and library functions for their customers.
  • Consider new technologies and methods to provide real direct services to customers, wherever they are.

I continue to believe many great libraries pursue a strategy of continuous improvement based on the current needs, as well as the expected future needs, of their customers. New technologies and new vendor solutions offer improvement opportunities for libraries. I also believe that the library profession itself holds the keys to being able to codify, analyze, find, and use the vast amount of future information that we will face in our lives. Librarians will be the ones who can help us “customers” make sense of it all. Customer support for, along with the financial and positive political benefits that customer support brings, is critical to the future of our libraries. Without serving our customers needs and operating in a style and manner that customer want, libraries jeopardize their own success and future.

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