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I’ll never forget creating a Staff Day presentation titled “Customer Service is Loving People,” filled with all sorts of ideas about empathy, love, MLK quotes, and references to historical and philosophical figures. Before clicking ‘save’ on the PowerPoint presentation, I thought: am I really going to do this? Could this be the corniest presentation of all time? (the corniest LL&F post of all time?!) Am I one of those weirdos at Staff Day that we all make fun of later on? Alas, I felt compelled. I literally opened my talk with this: “I was going to talk about Customer Service, but I cannot…”

After thinking about it for several years, and after serving on our Customer Service Committee at KPL, I truly believe empathy is the holy grail of customer service and, being a simple person, I prefer to focus on that alone. All of us who serve people – whether that be students, library patrons, or middle aged women getting skinny vanilla lattes – we all need to consider how we treat them, how we think about them; and, ultimately, how and if we love them.

  • Do you care about the members of your library? All of them?

  • Do you find yourself thinking about patrons most of the time (positively, not negatively)?

  • Do you treat users as you would treat yourself, your family, your friends?

If so, you are giving good customer service, probably great. And you are probably a good person to boot. Similarly, leaders should be judged in proportion to how much they inspire others to care for patrons. I find a direct correlation between moral virtues and professional ones – and here is a good example. Empathy crosses the boundaries.

Customer service is empathy. And empathy is morality, and morality is life. Some things in life have simple answers, and this might be one of them. Maybe it’s not about eye contact, and smiling, and body position, and the reference interview, and re-stating the question, and following up, and saying the proper things. Maybe those are peripheral. Maybe those are symptoms of customer service; they flow from it and cannot be forced, cannot come from nothing. As Rene Descartes would say, let’s get to first principles. Customer service is a genuine concern. You can’t fake it. People are smart. They know if you care about them or not. And if you care, you will make eye contact, you will smile, you will follow up. I’ve seen it so many times. Caring for customers is the worldview that creates excellent customer service experiences, both on the front end and the back end, both in person and when designing service, spaces, policies, procedures. Everything that psychology has to say about a healthy relationship – empathy, trust, communication, love – applies equally to patrons, customers, users, members, and co-workers.

Well, okay, maybe love isn’t the whole story. Loving alone sometimes isn’t enough. We can have the best of intentions and still design a terrible service for library users. For example, it’s great to care about people who prefer large print books, and those people exist no doubt. But should you double the size of your Large Print collection? Probably not (in fact, it might be too big). Without knowledge, love can be blind. We have to know what patrons – specifically and collectively – actually want. We have to look at data, crunch numbers and interpret statistics on occasion. We have to get to know people, ask questions, think critically, do focus groups. Martin Luther King Jr. once said (oh great, now he’s quoting MLK?) that in order for the heart to be in the right place, the head must be in the right place. I agree. Perfect customer service is when the heart meets the head on an organizational level.

If you work at a library, you need to figure out which side you’re on. If you don’t love patrons, you are getting in the way of progress. If you love patrons, let’s roll up our sleeves, learn, and create amazing services and spaces for the people we care about.

img_0366When it comes to book displays at the library, I find there to be two different philosophies or approaches. Most people lean towards one or the other, but not both. First, we have the “Save-a-Book” displays, where we highlight older, less popular books, usually from the regular stacks, usually based on a subject (Puppies, True Crime), a season (Beach Reads), or a heritage month (Black History). I would say the most extreme (and irrational) examples of these”Save-a-Book” displays are books that are about to get weeded (“Last Chance!”), or books that have blue or pink covers (please don’t do that…it really makes no sense).

Second, and less prevalent in libraries, are what I call popular displays (for lack of a better term). These are displays that highlight what people already want or probably want. I’m not talking about bestsellers or books that you automatically get 50 copies of, but popular midlist titles nonetheless. From a process standpoint, popular displays have a completely different workflow. Rather than gathered up after the fact on the back end, these are new books that get ordered to go on the display. They get selected, processed, and cataloged as display items. They can last for a few months to several years, and they require weekly upkeep to weed and keep tidy. They are like a fire, constantly being stocked and fed. They are new, clean, popular, and waiting for the patron when they walk in. And they do incredibly well.

You can probably already tell which one I prefer. I find that subject based displays are hit
or miss at best. They tend to be a lot of work for a little payoff in circulation. While I think most displays should be popular, I also think some displays have an important place in libraries. For example, we do displays for all the heritage months – Black History Month, American Indian Month. That’s important. Or displays that support social justice initiatives (e.g., “Libraries Stand Tall,” a display supporting immigrants). Whether popular or not, those have social value and should be highlighted. Although, as a side note, we should make an effort to represent all people in our popular dimg_0367isplays as well, not just relegated to special months. Let’s integrate displays the best we can. For example, I’m considering a popular “Heard on NPR” book display. Not only will it be popular, it will be relatively diverse as well.

Last thought: in my experience, Staff Picks displays are a slam dunk. Not only are they the best form of readers’ advisory, not only are they fun for staff, not only do patrons appreciate our selections, but they circulate well.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

hhibner —  February 10, 2017 — 2 Comments

 

young women reading in the show with title How to Beat the Winter Blues

I consider myself very fortunate to be quite healthy mentally. I do not suffer from anxiety or depression and am generally quite well adjusted. I do, however, find myself a little more on edge this time of year. Season affective disorder, maybe? I wouldn’t say it hinders me from doing my job, but I could definitely use an attitude adjustment right around the third week of January! My threshold for discomfort, my ability to take on new challenges, and my general excitement for my job wane. I am human, after all.

Some strategies I use to combat the winter blues include:

Exercise

It releases endorphins. It makes you feel good. It gives you energy.

Go outside

Get some sunshine. One of my co-workers religiously goes for a walk every afternoon, and that is just the smartest idea. I like to walk on my mornings off, but her dedication is even more effective.

Minimize stressful situations

Of course, this is good advice year round, but I have a better ability to deal with things the rest of the year, so in January I need to even more actively avoid stress! According to my Birkman, when stressed I am likely to become distracted and indecisive. I should avoid huge projects where decisions are necessary and situations where I need to focus very carefully. Unfortunately, we are in the throes of strategic planning at my library right now, and January is also employee performance review time, and next week I will experience my first ALA Midwinter conference as a Councilor-at-Large. I can’t avoid any of those things, so I need to approach them in a careful way where I have a lot of time to plan and think and be my usual introverted self. My comfort zone is…well, comforting when I’m stressed.

Build in fun

The parts of my job that I love the most are working with Interns, weeding my collections, and being on-desk. I do more of these things this time of year because they make me happy. For me, these are low stress and high reward activities.


As a leader, I also need to recognize that my co-workers may be suffering more this time of year too. I need to give them what they need, and encourage them to take walks and be healthy. I also need to help them to understand why I may be a bit more prickly than usual.

Nothing personal, it’s just February.

vintage-boxing-corner-and-stool-allan-swart

One of my beloved minions is stepping into the fracas of library service and I thought this would be a good time to review those items that will frustrate even the most experienced librarian.  Do I have the magic answer?  A no-fail process or procedure?  Not at all.

What I do have is a list of things that you cannot possibly control, no matter how good you are and how well you know the situation. The only thing that I can promise is that you will get better coping with the unknowns in your professional life. I also know that even the most talented, laid back person in the world will have days where coping is just not happening.

2016 (and while we are counting, 2015 too) were both years in my life that were rough. I had a lot of unfixable problems and I worried too much. I also have serious regrets for not recognizing problems ahead of time, underestimating situations, and over-reacting (or under-reacting) to situations both professionally and personally. I am always Monday morning quarterbacking the “should have” and “could have” of just about any project or program. Maybe if I spent more time on “X” it would be better. I am sure everyone does this from time to time. The danger is when you can’t get past the mistakes, and worse, the perceived mistakes, and you find yourself stuck. I still struggle with this after nearly 20 years in library service.

For new librarians it is important you know from the start that no matter how much preparation you do, things will go wrong and you will make mistakes. Even experienced people working in a new situation will have the same things happen that a rookie might face. Lack of experience can work hand-in-hand with chaos. So, newbies, with all my apologies to Ranganathan and his five laws, here are the real laws of library science:

  • There will always be someone who makes things more difficult in your work life. It could be a co-worker, patron, or boss. It might even be all three.
  • At some point, someone will blame you for something.
  • No matter how many signs you hang, training opportunities you offer, processes in place, etc. there will always be people who won’t read a policy/procedure or a sign or attempt training (or even Google a solution) to address a problem.
  • No matter how many signups there are or reminder calls you make, the headcount will never be predictable.
  • You will misinterpret a directive or an instruction from a supervisor or misunderstand a patron’s request.
  • You will bite off more than you can chew.
  • Someone will complain about something.
  • You will forget something important or miss something that should have been obvious.
  • Someone will mess with your budget.
  • You will probably burst into tears or have murderous thoughts about something or someone at work.
  • You can do everything right and it will still turn out awful.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Try these strategies for coping:

  • First, just assume everything will go bad and try and plan accordingly.
  • Be an active listener. Take copious notes and confirm your understanding of a problem by following up with an email or conversation
  • Be kind and give the benefit of the doubt to your co-workers, patrons, and bosses.
  • Make sure you connect with other librarians regularly and share your frustrations. Even in a small library you can ask for opinions in library forums or social media. I also meet regularly with a group of library workers that are not employed at the same library as me, and we have an agreement that nothing goes outside our group. They have been my go-to group for support. They are also a good reality check when I think I am losing my mind. Newbies, particularly, need to be able to touch base with more experienced librarians as a sounding board. (Caveat: Don’t get sucked into negativity with someone heading toward burnout.)

Libraries work because of collaboration. Take this to the next level by sharing concerns with your fellow professionals. Be supportive and forgive slights, knowing that no one is perfect. Don’t assume you know all the facts, and remember that no one ever has ALL the facts.

Because everyone needs a librarian in their corner.

Collaboration is Hard

Kevin King —  February 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

collaboration-mindsetIn the library world, conflict is avoided more than it is embraced. I have noticed that when faced with a situation in which you would like to verbally disagree with a colleague over an idea or plan, most people stay silent. This response only leads to stagnant innovation. Collaboration is hard. Overcoming this difficulty happens when a team can establish a trust-filled, safe environment where everyone on the team has a voice, great things happen.

Author Liane Davey, an expert on teams in the workplace, writes:

Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict.

Davey goes on to explain ways in which teams can develop ways to make collaboration and conflict. Her methods include:

  1. Discussing team roles before the team tackles a new idea.
  2. Use a personality assessment tool to highlight team members differences.
  3. Set ground rules around dissension.

I encourage you to read more about each of these methods here. Teams that contain members that trust one another, understand the personalities at play and have established the guidelines for engagement will not only realize that collaboration is not that hard but also more innovation than you can manage.