Archives For Customer Service

Just Turn Already!

Kevin King —  June 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

{A6B3F56E-D4A4-41C4-86E2-876C943AB240}_WebEvery morning my route to work takes me to an intersection with a blinking yellow light for traffic going north and south. Many times the cars that approach this intersection will stop for seemingly no reason. For years I would often get angry and yell out “Just turn already!” This intersection happens to be in the middle of a huge medical complex, where people from all over the state come for treatment or to visit a loved one. Recently it dawned on me that maybe many of these confused drivers are simply trying to navigate an unfamiliar area on their way to the hospital. This insight has definitely helped me understand that these drivers are not necessarily incompetent, but maybe lost in the thoughts of a sick family member or friend.

How many times do we assume that the people we work with are either selfish, unmotivated, or just not able to do the job? Is it because that lack the skills or desire to perform at a high level or are they dealing with outside factors? Do you trust that every patron that walks into the library is there with noble intentions or do you judge them based on appearance? All of us fall into the trap of not being a good leader because we react based on a person’s external factors. If you simply manage each situation with compassion and understanding, it will not only help a person better understand but also lower your own frustration level.

I challenge all of you to slow down when you come to theses challenging “intersections” at work to consider where the “drivers” involved are coming from. It just might prevent you from making a wrong turn.

My first library job, lo these many years ago, was providing computer support to users of the downtown branch of a big public library. I handed out internet access codes, took quarters for each printed page, and helped senior citizens navigate the world wide web.

Sometimes, the job got tougher: I had to crack down on rule breakers. Users would cadge extra computer time by stealing other library card numbers, or aggressively push the limits on appropriate content to watch online in a public  space (and what personal activities to engage in while watching that content).

Whenever a library user’s actions made the library unwelcoming for those around them, it was my job to remind them of the expectations for our shared public space. I was all of 20 years old, soft-spoken and inexperienced in conveying authority. A confrontation with another grown adult about bad behavior could get very uncomfortable quickly. Whenever I got up from the computer desk to have that hard conversation, I was steeled by the knowledge that Jim had my back.

Jim was our library’s full time security guard. He worked second shift, covering the hours when most users were in the library, and spent the day on his feet making the rounds. Jim made a point of knowing every employee, even part time library assistants like me. He checked in at every desk on every round to ask how things were going. He was friendly to users as well as staff, but could turn on a stern gaze that dispelled trouble before it started.

Jim’s reassuring presence helped me and all his fellow library employees fulfill our own roles serving users in the library. This is what leadership at every level looks like.

I remembered Jim as I read Dana Bialak’s recent profile of Marko Petrovich, a public library security guard in Portland, Maine. Bialak’s piece is a touching portrait of a person dealing with all the challenges that users can bring to an open community space.

Library security is a hot-button issue. The wish is that there were no need for security guards; that users would regulate their own behavior with regard to others in the library. Until that is consistently the case, library employees are grateful for a security assist. Bialak addresses the need for security sensitively, saying, “To be an officer of the library is to be a steward of it. They must be civilized and caring toward the space, its resources, and, most importantly, its patrons.”

I was touched by the description of Petrovich balancing his security work with kindness toward those patrons. He handles an unfortunate poop incident, for instance, with more grace than most of us could ever muster. The profile is more than worth a read if you work in a library, if you use a library, or if you have a library in your community.

Here’s to Marko, and to Jim, and to all the public library security guards. Thank you for your efforts in keeping our public spaces friendly, safe, and open to all users. May your shifts be quiet and your libraries well-used.

We all know communication at work is very important. But sometimes not communicating can be a valid and wise choice.

Recently, I sent an email informing my colleagues about an interaction I’d had with a patron and asking for follow up from some of them. In a sea of the normal follow up emails, there was one one-sentence email from a coworker, putting down the patron.

I was immediately disappointed because I like the person who sent the email and I have a real problem with patron bashing. I understand we need to vent and inform each other, but this was not venting. It actually came across as a gesture of solidarity and support, but at the cost of disrespecting the patron. I quickly re-read the email I had sent to make sure I hadn’t unwittingly put down the patron myself but I had maintained a neutral tone and there was no hint of frustration.

This one sentence email that had probably taken my coworker mere seconds to write gave me more than a moment of pause. Should I stand up for what I believe in and tell her the patron was fine and there was no need to talk ill of her? That’s what a large part of me wanted to do because I didn’t want my silence to be mistaken as approval. However, I struggled with what do say because this coworker is in a supervisory role. I’m also new to my organization and still feeling out the culture. On top of all that, I didn’t want to reject her friendly overture.

Ultimately, I decided to say nothing largely because this was over email. As we have all experienced at this point, getting one’s tone right over email can be difficult and as this person and I don’t know each other well, I didn’t want to risk it. If this person had been standing in front of me, I could have probably dealt with the situation casually and quickly but I didn’t want to risk an email. So I let it go.

What do you think? Are there times where you chose to say nothing? Do you ever regret not saying something? How have you handled similar situations?


Three wise monkeys on Innoshima Island photo by Japanexterna.

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

Art Linkletter is famous for sharing the funny, and often embarrassing, things that kids will say. As librarians working with the public, we also hear the darndest things. We don’t have a national television show, but with social media we have plenty of outlets we can use to share these gems. As this Booklist Reader post, No Shaming by Erin Downey Howerton, wisely points out, it is important to share these stories with sensitivity. She discusses the need for securing anonymity and using humor in careful ways. Her post would make a great starting point for a staff discussion about how they use the library or personal accounts to share humorous interactions with patrons. It’s also essential to keep your reaction in check when you are with the patron. A couple of years ago a sixth grader asked me for help finding a fictional story about the Holocaust. I was showing her how to find book summaries in our library catalog when after reading through a dozen of them together she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you have any happy Holocaust stories?” That is not the time to make a young patron feel bad about asking for help. She wanted a survivor story, a resistance worker story, a story with hope. Sensitivity training…just another of the skills that library school should include.

You’ve seen it before: the imperative sign dictating “Do Not Reshelve Books.”

You’ve probably spotted it in your own library. Perhaps you’ve even made a sign of your own, frustrated by books put back incorrectly, or because you need to collect browsing statistics.

Have you ever seen a sign that explains what you should do with your browsed books?

Erin Bradford, a librarian from the State Library of North Carolina explains the usual “Do Not Reshelve” sign from the perspective of an expert user: “I thought, ‘What’s the harm? I know where they go and I know I’m putting them in the right spot, and I’m trying to help decrease their work by shelving them.'”

Library visitors don’t understand the reason for the negative command, so they don’t comply with it.

Using positive language helps encourage the library user behavior we do want to see. Instead of saying, “Don’t reshelve books”, encourage the alternative: and explain why: “Leave books on cart for counting and shelving.”

Negative language results in library signs that users ignore, or worse, gather a bad impression of the library. Peter Alsberg, Director of the Örebro County Library, Sweden, curated a group of signs he calls passive-aggressive library unmarketing.

Check out the negative library language signs below for examples of what not to do. Afterward, check out The Desk Set on bad library signage, and consider conducting a signage audit in your library.

Five Negative Library Signs

5: Do Not Worry About This Here Video Camera

Please Do Not Be Offended

Creative Commons License by trombonekenny on flickr.

The “No offense, but I’m about to say something offensive” of library signs.

 4: Do Not Write on Other People

Sign saying: "Please do not stand, sit, climb, or sharpie on sleeping students."

via Funny Signs

This university library has seen some dark days.

3: Do Not Move This. EVER.

A box of microfiche with a sign: "SMc's sorted files. PLEASE don't move! 8/98"

Creative Commons License by Sarah Altendorf

A library employee found these boxes 13 years later. How long will they remain?

2: Do Not Transform the Library into Concept Art

Sign saying, "Do not yell Roll Tide in the library."

via twitter user katiersmith17

Do not yell “Roll Tide,” but other phrases are OK.

Happily, this sign was actually conceptual art about negative signs. Whew.

1: Do Not Eat Our Materials

Sign saying: "DO NOT chew on the headphone cords"

Original source unknown

We can only hope this sign was created solely for one individual problem user.

Now that you’ve seen these negative library signs, please do not create a sign starting with “Please Do Not” ever again.

Edited 12/29/14 to include Erin Bradford, author of the SLNC post.