Extreme Customer Service: Hospitality in the Library

Earlier this month, I got to attend a presentation called “Re-energizing Your Customer Service Skills,” presented by Sally Ijams of Darien Library (CT), at the Newton Free Library (MA). Darien is well known in the library world for its customer service, technology, and programs, and Ijams’ (pronounced “imes,” rhymes with “limes”) presentation was the staff training that all new employees at Darien receive.

What does good customer service look like?

When developing their training, they had to look outside the library world for guidance: they looked to brands and companies like Disney, Zappos, Nordstrom, Shake Shack (Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table is required reading for all new staff in Darien), and even Ritz-Carlton. One might think that public libraries don’t have much in common with the Ritz, but libraries are like these businesses in four ways:

  1. We have customers
  2. We have products we believe in
  3. We want repeat business
  4. We know our customers have other options

From these examples, Darien aimed to provide an extraordinary level of customer service by hiring for attitude (“You can train people to do just about anything but you can’t train them to be nice”) and focusing on consistent delivery of excellent service: greeting each library guest when they arrive and thanking them when they leave, saying yes whenever possible (only safety issues are a firm no), and anticipating and fulfilling library visitors’ needs.

WELCOME text made in Canva

The Welcome

What do people see when they first enter the library or first approach a service desk? Library staff should be approachable. Smile and make eye contact (this works in Darien, but may not work everywhere depending on people’s cultures and backgrounds). Stand up to greet people, then be on the same level (both sitting or both standing). Determine your “resting face” – is it welcoming? Don’t watch the clock – people will notice you looking. Be “relentlessly positive…fake it till you make it.”

Words and gestures are important. Instead of pointing, use the “Disney wave” (gesturing with the whole arm and hand); instead of saying “no problem” or “no worries,” say “you’re welcome” or “it was my pleasure.”

Nametags: they work! If nothing else, they show that you work at the library, so visitors can identify staff.

Smile when you answer the phone; people can hear it in your voice. But prioritize people who are physically in the building; reward them for coming. If you are on the phone with another patron, wrap up the call and call them back. Meanwhile, acknowledge the person in front of you (eye contact, “I will be right with you”).

Don’t talk about patrons in a public area. If there is information you need to convey to a colleague to bring them up to speed, do it in a private place.

The Handoff

Often, a person will need to go from one service desk to another desk or another area of the library. Rather than pointing or offering directions, escort them to where they need to go. If this “warm transfer” isn’t possible (you have a long line of people waiting), do a “lukewarm transfer” – call a colleague in the part of the building where the person is going to let them know who to expect and what they need.

As you’re walking through the library, use the “bartender’s trick”: clean as you go. Pick up trash, tidy books, push in chairs. “You are inviting people into your home. Make it look as nice as you can.”

Patron Behavior

Know your patron behavior policy! Every library should have one. (Darien’s is on their website.) Enforce this policy with compassion; staff should be empowered to make exceptions as they see fit. Remind patrons that “Our policies were written to benefit everyone in the library.” Other useful tips:

  • Remain calm
  • Defuse the situation (is there anything that will make them happy at this moment?)
  • Have difficult conversations out of the public eye
  • Bring in a backup staff person
  • Never touch or restrain a patron
  • If patron is “stuck in a loop,” change your body language or move to another location
  • Say you will follow up if necessary, then follow up!

Ijams cited a recent piece in American Libraries that has a useful sidebar called “What to say when things get inappropriate.” When staff is faced with verbal abuse or harassment, simple, firm scripts like these are helpful (“I’m sorry, we don’t tolerate language like that in the library”). If you have a bad interaction, try to take a break to reset afterward; likewise, if you see a co-worker have a bad interaction, give them a chance to take a break and recover.

“Extreme customer service” / hospitality: making everyone feel welcome at the library

How are we perceived by our patrons? Here are some of the things Darien does to earn its “extreme customer service” reputation:

  • Treat every person like a VIP. Make them feel special; greet them by name
  • When you have to say no, say it with yes options (some libraries call this “getting to yes”)
  • If you direct someone to another library or organization, make the initial contact for them (phone call, introduction, etc.)
  • Notary service: Darien has eleven notaries on staff, so a notary is always available. They do not charge patrons for this service. The library pays the cost for staff members to become notaries.
  • Library hours: Staff are paid to arrive early and leave together after closing time, so though the library opens at 9am, doors usually open at 8:50. At the end of the day, technology does not shut down before closing time. Five minutes before the library closes, they play music over the PA system.
  • No fines for senior residents. Fines are a barrier to access; Darien would like to get rid of all fines, but there is a budget crisis in Connecticut right now.
  • “We trust our patrons.” This is “the easiest thing and the hardest thing.” (Sometimes you know someone is lying to you and you just have to accept it.)

That was the bulk of Ijams’ presentation. During the Q&A, I asked what they did at Darien to make signage welcoming. Ijams said that in the old building, there was so much signage it was visual clutter; in the new building, they started with minimalist signage, but added more for wayfinding purposes. The only guideline is no negative signs – phrase it as a yes option. The only exception is inside a staff stairwell, where the public shouldn’t be in the first place. Instead of out-of-order signs, they use one that says “Taking a vacation day, be back at work tomorrow”! (Speaking of time off, Ijams also recommended, “If you’re sick, stay home! Colleagues will appreciate not being infected.” Of course, this presumes an adequate amount of paid sick leave.)

Ijams’ presentation was professional and gave the three of us from our library who attended much to consider. For customer service to be consistent, though, everyone must be on the same page, so our own staff training would be necessary, and while Darien’s philosophy is admirable, we wouldn’t likely adopt every detail. Still, there is always room for improvement, and some improvements can be made easily right away: escorting rather than pointing, performing more warm transfers, saying “you’re welcome” instead of “no worries,” employing the “bartender’s trick.” Other changes, such as prioritizing in-person visitors over people who contact the library via phone or chat, using nametags, or changing closing time procedures, would need to be made at a higher level.

Do you work at a public library? What do you do to make visiting the library a great experience for patrons?

 

 

Advertisements

Top Ten Friday: the to-read list

Back in June, I wrote about books that I was looking forward to. Coming into the end of the year, it’s time to take stock:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: read and liked this little peek into Julie’s life before the war and Code Name Verity.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: read/listened, liked; would recommend to anyone looking for realistic YA fiction.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: read and liked, but it’s her first novel, Dumplin’, that has stayed with me more. I may re-read or listen (I’ve heard the audio is good). Related: Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu was another excellent teen novel set in a small Southern (Texas) town.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: haven’t read yet
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: read and loved. Eleanor is such a unique character and her story is difficult and quiet and strong.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: read this for book club and loved it – it was like Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey.
  •  Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: haven’t read yet
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: read for book club. Important, especially for those in a position to ignore or forget the effects of institutional racism and police violence (i.e. most white people).
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: read and liked, but I’m not sure I’ll return to it, even though I bought a copy. I did love the line “perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone” (from “My God, It’s Full of Stars”).
  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman: read as soon as it was published, loved it, read it again, am waiting for the next one already. Review here, contains spoilers.
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore: read and loved. Different from the Graceling books of course, but equally immersive, and structurally interesting (it’s sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure, but with all the options).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: read and liked this one very much, and included it on a “Books on the Bright Side” list I made for my library.
  • The Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and others: I really liked the first two volumes, didn’t like the third and fourth as much (the Young Avengers crossover lost me), but still excited for whatever Rainbow Rowell comes up with.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: just as good as expected, possibly better; review here.
  • Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: haven’t read yet and might not; a trusted fellow reader found it disappointing.

Girl in Disguise and Miller’s Valley are the only two remaining from that list, but of course there are always more to look forward to; Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, and Jo Walton all have books coming out in 2018. Others I’d like to read:

  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel/memoir)
  • Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (YA)
  • Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn (fiction)
  • The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (sci-fi/fantasy)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (I read this when I was much younger and I think it went entirely over my head; at least, I don’t remember anything from it)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (nonfiction)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay (memoir)
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (myth/fairytale – I’d love to hear from someone who read this and would recommend it. Reviews look good.)
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage (nonfiction/memoir/poetry)

And hey, that’s ten! If you count a trilogy as one. (Bear and Nightingale already has a sequel, as well.) What books are you looking forward to? Have you read any of the books above? What did you think?

Fake News, a.k.a. Information Disorder: an ongoing reading list

Since before the first Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference at the beginning of this year, I’ve been keeping a list of relevant articles. This list has expanded to include books, studies and reports, and other materials, and I am sharing it here. If you have relevant materials to add, please leave a comment here. If you would like to use this list for library programming, teaching, or related work, please feel free – I’d love to know about it if you do.

Though “fake news” is a term most people recognize these days (unfortunately), it is not the best term to use, for reasons Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan state in their Council of Europe report:

We refrain from using the term ‘fake news’, for two reasons. First, it is woefully inadequate to describe the complex phenomena of information pollution. The term has also begun to be appropriated by politicians around the world to describe news organisations whose coverage they find disagreeable. In this way, it’s becoming a mechanism by which the powerful can clamp down upon, restrict, undermine and circumvent the free press.
We therefore introduce a new conceptual framework for examining information disorder, identifying the three different types: mis-, dis- and mal-information.

Misinformation is when false information is shared with no harmful intent; disinformation is when false information is shared to cause harm; and mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm (e.g. by moving it from the private to the public sphere). Unfortunately, again, we are dealing with all three today (plus satirical sources like The Onion, which are the only good kind of fake news).

Fake News a.k.a. Information Disorder: A Resource List

Again, feedback is welcomed; please let me know if you use this list, or have anything to add. I am particularly interested in using the rise of interest in the topic of fake news to advocate for librarians in schools, as they are the ones who do the important work of teaching research skills, critical thinking, information literacy, and media literacy.

 

Top Ten Unique Book Titles

As usual, I am using Linda’s list for inspiration, and it’s not a Tuesday at all. Also, there are eleven twelve, and I could keep going. This is a fun one.

    1.  Cover image Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers: This book mystified me when I read it – was it fiction? Memoir? What? – but I always liked the brash confidence of the title. And the bit about French fries.
    2.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I think I came to this as an Ann Patchett recommendation, but the title would have made me want to pick it up anyway.
    3.  Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman: It may have been the title that made me pick this book up, I can’t remember now. Either way, I’m glad I did.
    4.  I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley: This one is on Linda’s list, but I liked the book better than she did. It probably helped that I read it in New York in my early twenties (the essays are about the author in New York in her twenties), and the title always makes me smile.Cover image of Men Explain Things to Me
    5.  Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Well, obviously she’s not.
    6.  Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit: The title is so good, and so appropriate, that it’s the only thing on the cover of this book: white text on a deep blue background. (I hate to think what Solnit would have done to a cover designer who put a pair of heels on the front of her book.)
    7.  Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary: A perfect title for a laugh-out-loud parenting memoir.
    8.  I Crawl Through It by A.S. King: My least favorite of her books – I really didn’t get it at all – but I love the title. Her others are good too (e.g. Please Ignore Vera Dietz).Cover image of Someone Could Get Hurt
    9.  Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer: I heard the song by The Cure before I read the book; both are atmospheric. I love discovering literature via music and vice-versa; when done well, it adds to both. (I discovered The Smiths’ song “Asleep” via The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.)
    10.  A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: The title was more promising than the book itself turned out to be, but then, how could that not be the case?
    11.  Shh! We Have A Plan by Chris Haughton: Initially, I didn’t think this picture book quite lived up to its funny title, but after enough re-reads I came to love it.
    12.  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace: I’ve never read this collection of “essays and arguments,” but I’ve thought about this phrase a lot over the last two years. It’s rarely apt, but when it is, it’s so perfect.

Least favorite title:

Baking With Less Sugar by Joanne Chang: This doesn’t sound appealing at all.

What are your favorite titles? Least favorite? Book you read because of (or in spite of) its title?

Reviving the lost art of repair

In early September, the article “Libraries and the Art of Everything Maintenance” (Megan Cottrell, American Libraries, 9/1/2017) was the Library Link of the Day. The article featured a few public libraries that partnered with organizations such as Repair Cafe  and Fixit Clinic to encourage the repair of broken items, and teach people how to repair their own things.

There is so much to love about this idea. Together, libraries and Repair Cafe/Fixit Clinic:

  • help build a more sustainable world
  • fight the “throwaway” culture of obsolescence
  • encourage an interest in how things work
  • teach useful skills

For the past several years, libraries have been talking about Makerspaces – and in some cases, carving out space and buying 3D printers. While I think that 3D printers are amazing for specific purposes (like making teeth), I’m afraid a lot of them are used for churning out cheap plastic junk. They may serve as an introduction to design and robotics, which is not to be discounted…but I think the repair cafe/fixit clinic idea is so much more useful. After all, learning a skill comes easier when you have a purpose: learning a coding language, for example, will probably be a wasted effort unless there’s something you want to make with it.

In this scenario, a broken item – lamp, toaster, necklace, scooter – provides motivation for learning, the library provides space and coordinates the event, and the Repair Cafe or Fixit Clinic provides the volunteers (who may bring the tools of their trade with them). In the AL article, Cottrell writes, “The goal of the U-Fix-It Clinic [is] allowing people to repair broken items instead of throwing them away, but also inspiring them to learn more about the products they consume and how they work. The event is part of a larger movement across the globe working to help keep broken items out of landfills and revive the lost art of repair.”

Knowing how things work – and how to go about fixing them – is empowering; it’s useful knowledge.  In a piece for WGBH, “‘Fixit Clinics’ Help People Revive Their Broken Items,” Tina Martin interviewed the founder of Fixit Clinics, MIT grad Peter Mui, who said, “There’s a sense that [people] don’t have a choice when something breaks, there’s no repair people left anymore to fix this stuff.”

Mui wrote a guest blog post on ifixit.org, saying, “Once people start repairing, they start asking questions like ‘What went wrong?’, ‘Can it be fixed?’, and ‘How might it have been designed differently to avoid breaking in the first place?’ That last question is where we’re ultimately going with Fixit Clinic: to encourage products designed with maintenance, serviceability, and repairability in mind.”

As the things we use on a daily basis have become more complex (sometimes by necessity, sometimes not), design has become more opaque. I often think of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things while I’m working at the reference desk, explaining the “hamburger menu” to a patron, or helping them locate the miniscule, hidden power button on our new laptops. They often apologize, and I tell them it’s not their fault – it’s poor design. But as more and more of our things have microchips inside them, instead of parts we can see and tinker with, we’ve forgotten how to open things up and explore; we’ve given up on figuring out how things work – or why they stop working.

The mentality behind the Repair Cafe and the Fixit Clinic addresses these problems in a tremendously useful way. The Repair Cafe “About” page explains, “We throw away vast amounts of stuff….The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines.”

The Fixit Clinic’s mission has similar themes: “Fixit Clinic conveys basic disassembly, troubleshooting, and repair skills using peoples’ own broken things as the vehicle. By sharing these skills while transferring them to others we teach critical thinking through the lens of our relationship to consumption and sustainability. We strive to demystify science and technology so that we can ultimately make better policy choices as a society.”

A community learning experience that brings people together to share skills and tools, and repair items that would otherwise end up in landfills and be replaced with new things: this is a perfect program for libraries to host. The Cambridge Public Library has partnered with the Repair Cafe in Cambridge already; I’d love for our library to do this as well, and I’m keeping the idea on the back burner. (The front burners are already occupied: I’ve just launched a cookbook club this fall, which is wonderful but a lot of work. If only we had more staff…)

Related:

The end of repair? 3/11/2013

The extinction timeline, 12/29/2014?)

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

US cover of The Power by Naomi AldermanAn absolutely remarkable thought experiment that is also an engaging, suspenseful novel. The premise is simple: “An environmental build-up of nerve agent…released during the Second World War…changed the human genome.” As a result, all girls have “the power,” the ability to send out an electrical jolt through their fingertips. Adolescents can “wake up” the power in older women. Some have more power (and better control) and some have less, but it’s not going away – which means that the historical gendered imbalance of power has flipped. Suddenly, women are more powerful than men, and in places where women have been most oppressed, “justice is at last being meted out.”

The framing device for this story is a letter from the author, Neil Adam Armon (an anagram of Naomi Alderman), to Naomi, asking for feedback on his “historical novel.” His novel is set in a time close to our present, but Neil and Naomi’s exchange takes place about five thousand years after the “Cataclysm,” in a future where women have been dominant for five thousand years.

A few characters, some of whose stories intersect, take us through the momentous emergence of the power: Roxy, daughter of a London crime boss; Allie, an orphan suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her foster parents; Tunde, a young male journalist who follows the most explosive events; and Mayor Margaret Cleary and her daughter, Jocelyn. Also throughout are Kristen and Tom, TV news anchors whose gender power balance shifts subtly but definitively throughout the novel.

The Power succeeds marvelously in its aim, and is therefore disheartening: it shows that when the disempowered attain power, they do not necessarily wield it any better than those who were previously in power. (As the voice in Allie’s head tells her, The only way to be safe is to own the place.) The solution, it is implied, is not simply to flip the gendered power imbalance, but to make it so that everyone is equal. And as the voice in Allie’s head also says: You can’t get there from here.

NELA 2017: Virtual attendance via Twitter

At every library conference, there are a few good souls who tweet key ideas, soundbites, stats, pictures of slides, and other tidbits from the sessions they attend. I didn’t go to the New England Library Association annual conference this year, but I did follow it on Twitter.

NELAtweet1NELAtweet2NELAtweet3NELAtweet4NELAtweet5

A few key themes emerged:

Media: A “silver spot” (not so much as to be a lining) of the 2016 election is the resulting heightened awareness of fake news and the importance of media literacy. A related point is that news organizations, pressured by the 24-hour news cycle and the lure of clickbait (clicks = revenue), may opt to cover “Twitter fights” instead of paying journalists for real field reporting.

Allyship and “neutrality”: As my co-worker tweeted, “Taking a neutral position is taking a position”; it supports the status quo. Being an ally for historically marginalized populations may be uncomfortable – “You’re going to mess up. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” It is not your first reaction but your second that makes you an ally. Be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to listen with openness and compassion.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Think outside the box, move things around (mobile furniture!), try new ideas – and don’t use the “we tried it once and it didn’t work” excuse. When was the last time you tried? Changes in staff, the community, or technology may make an idea that failed last time succeed this time. This applies to workflows as well. Why do we do the things we do the way we do them? Does the original reason still apply, or would doing things a different way make more sense now (and serve patrons better)?

Library, community, and social media: Social media is more of a conversation than a lecture; use the library social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an engagement tool, not just a marketing device. PC Sweeney, political director of EveryLibrary, advised libraries to “build a critical mass of supporters before you need them,” raising awareness and encouraging advocacy. (EveryLibrary is “the first and only national organization dedicated exclusively to political action at a local level to create, renew, and protect public funding for libraries of all types.”) It’s also important to “speak the language of your audience,” for example, “We need to protect all Americans’ rights to access their libraries.”

Statistics: “What you measure, you pay attention to.” And you pay attention to what you measure.

Kids and reading: “Kids know what books are right for them.” They can close a book at any time if they are scared or confused.

It sounds like the author talks – Ann Hood, Adam Gidwitz, and Garth Stein – were all wonderful, as well.

Thanks to those NELA participants who tweeted from the sessions!

NELAtweet6