You want fries with that?

Mary Kelly —  July 15, 2013 — 2 Comments


One of my first jobs was as a waitress in diner. It was hard work and extremely thankless. Crazy people were everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pace was fast and things went wrong all the time.  At the time, I had no idea I was training for a future career as a librarian.

Let’s take a look at the basic waitress/waiter job and examine the skills needed to be successful.

  • Dealing with difficult customers
  • Dealing with difficult managers/supervisors
  • Multi-tasking
  • Dealing with interruptions
  • Dealing with unrealistic expectations
  • Anticipating customer needs/wants
  • Following procedures and guidelines for health and safety of customers
  • Improvising solutions
  • Making it all look easy

So, anyone see any similarities to library service?  Anyone? Anyone?

I bring this up because I have been reviewing resumes with a few librarians lately. Over and over, I have seen them downplay the customer service aspect of their former jobs. I have also seen this with new grads in other fields as well. Did you work in retail? Did you wait on the most ridiculous customer ever?  Any job that requires serious customer management, and I am including libraries, will appreciate the skill set of the waitress, bartender or retail clerk.

When I have talked to people in library service, they are looking for the kind of skill set I just presented. They are going to assume you know how to Google something, use a database, etc. Library employers are really after are those soft skills in managing patrons. Show me a resume where someone managed birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese  AND lived to tell about it and I am definitely going to give that person a serious look.

Managers that have experience on the front lines with customers know this and are looking for those indicators on your resume. Make sure that all those skills are front and center in your resume, especially if you are light on professional library experience.  Don’t shy away from promoting these skills.

If you haven’t been exposed to lots of customer service training, time for a field trip to see it live and in person. (Now you have a REAL reason to go to your local bar/restaurant.) Take time to observe the server/customer interaction. Listen for how a difficult customer is managed (or not managed) and how the customers “like” the place. Librarians can learn a lot about customer service from watching good servers do their job.

Tip your waitresses folks, I am here all week.

Mary Kelly


Co-founder of and library utility player. Lover of: library data, spreadsheets, collection quality, cats and cardigans. Follow me on twitter @librarymary40

2 responses to You want fries with that?


    I couldn’t agree more! If you can’t handle a customer, how are you going to put all that great knowledge you gathered in grad school to use! Having survived working at a Major Magic’s, I can say that it changed the way I both give and receive service. I think everyone should have a crap retail job in their lives, it makes better people out of us all!


    Amen! I just interviewed for a managerial job, and I stressed my 10+ years working in retail/customer service as a training ground.

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