NJLA Program: Notes from: "How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders"

A big thanks to Kathy Schalk-Greene, Mount Laurel Library for organizing this program, inviting me to be on it, moderating it, and sharing her great notes with us! -pete

Notes from: “How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders”
NJLA Conference, April 25, 2006 Sponsored by the NJLA Member Services Committee
A 50 minute program…

Speakers:

Peter Bromberg (bromberg@sjrlc.org) is the Program Development Coordinator for the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative in Gibbsboro, NJ.

Leslie Burger (lburger@princetonlibrary.org) has directed the Princeton Public Library since 1999 and is the president-elect of the American Library Association.

Mary Martin (martin@bccls.org) is currently working as Assistant Director of Glen Rock Public Library, a small public library in Bergen County.

Kurt W. Wagner (WagnerK@wpunj.edu) coordinates Library Systems and web management at the David and Lorraine Cheng Library at William Paterson University.

Q1: Was there any decision you made or skill you learned early in your career that has served you well?

Leslie:

  • Don’t wear a skirt while working at a library with glass floors
  • Always ask why
  • Never take no for an answer
  • Continually challenge yourself
  • Be flexible

Mary:

  • Don’t let fear rule you
  • If you make a mistake, you don’t die
  • Don’t assume that everyone knows less that you do (It’s hard to ask for help if you think you’re perfect)
  • Thank people for what they do

Q2: What role does technology play in how you do what you do?

Kurt:

  • Help others to understand the interrelated nature of these systems in libraries
  • Always learn something new

Pete:

  • I use technology to control and manage my time
  • Not an early adopter … finally got a cell phone when I saw the benefit to me.
  • Five specific technologies that make my life better:
  1. GoToMyPC to access my desktop from anywhere
  2. Yahoo calendar and listservs
  3. RSS Feeds to scan headlines on 100+ blogs/sites (I use firefox live bookmarks and have just fallen in love with blogbridge.)
  4. FURL – great for project management, reading lists, general bookmarking and serendipitous discoveries!
  5. AIM Chat for online meetings .
  6. (Thought of this one late) Google Desktop–the lifesaving app for the perpetually disorganized. I love you Google Desktop. Don’t ever leave me.


Q3: Do you have a life outside your job? How do you find a balance between your personal and professional lives?

Mary:

  • You don’t find balance on the street like loose change
  • Most choices can be revisited later
  • Sometimes you can’t help being out of balance

Kurt:

  • Always have a sense of proportion
  • Have activities outside of work
  • Don’t worry about this too much

Q4: How do you foster good communication with your staff?

Pete

  • You have to model good communication and show a willingness to listen without judgment
  • Realize that all communication is good, even “negative” feedback … it’s always better to know.
  • Proper response to negative feedback … “Thank you” (props to Pat Wagner for that tip)
  • Ask for what you need
  • Be fact-based (rather than judgmental) in your speech to others
  • Provide options… “where do we go from here?”
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. We’re all passionate and deeply concerned about the health of our libraries.

Leslie:

  • Send staff wide emails (even if you’re not sure they check it)
  • Communicate in many different ways
  • Library has an internal blog (encourage others to make this the default home page)
  • Lots of meetings (staff wide, department, librarians, task based)
  • Face book of pictures and names of all library staff, trustees, Friends, volunteers (on the blog, in a notebook in the staff room)
  • Write a personal blog (Leslie’s is de-mystifying the ALA presidency)

Q5: Do you ever feel overwhelmed? What do you when that happens?

Mary:

  • First, freak out
  • Afterwards, get a grip
  • Then, prioritize what needs to be done
  • And after that identify those things you can do while trying to avoid the things that need to get done

Pete:

  • I generally feel some amount of feeling overwhelmed. I go home more aware of everything that didn’t get done, but I’ve learned to manage this much better
  • Have other people in your life who can help keep things in perspective
  • Exercise regularly


Q6: What single piece of advice would you give to a librarian at the beginning of their career?

Kurt:

  • Learn to communicate well
  • Avoid energy vampires

Leslie:

  • Be open to new possibilities
  • Be willing to change your route
  • Conquer your fear, let it go
  • Never stop learning

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See more NJLA program summaries at the official NJLA blog: http://blog.njla.org

Little bits of what?

I just finished watching Scott Pelley’s interview of Starbucks President Howard Schultz on 60 minutes and I’m inspired to share something that I wrote a few weeks ago but then felt shy about posting.

Why the change of heart? It was something Schultz said early in the interview. He told Pelley that an employee had coined the phrase, ‘We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls.” Pelly’s cynical response was, “oh, c’mon you’re blowing smoke.” Maybe, but… Here’s the post that’s been sitting in my drafts folder:

My wife and I were recently reminiscing about our first date and she remarked, “Yeah, there we were on our first date talking about customer service. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.” Maybe that’s not the best reason to be passionate about customer service, but it’s nice icing on the cake. 🙂

I remember telling her that I loved working at the reference desk, just as I had loved working at Nordstrom, or at my college jobs working in a pizza place, and delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. My secret was this: People thought I was giving them little bits of information, or dress shirts, or slices of pizza, or drugs, but I was really giving them little bits of love.

My future wife’s reaction to this was, and I think I’m quoting exactly, “OK, now you’re starting to freak me out a little bit.” So I went on to explain in less freaky terms that what I enjoyed about providing customer service was the opportunity to connect with other people, if only briefly, and possibly make their day just a little brighter. Regardless of the specific transaction (reference, pizza, dress shirts, prescriptions), I was also (or primarily) giving them a little bit of myself, and that was my real job. If little ‘bits of love’ is too freaky, so be it. Little bits of fill-in-the-blank:  Kindness. Caring. Service.

So in light of my own freaky customer service inclinations I’m inclined to believe that Howard Schultz was not blowing steam up Pelley’s espresso. (Boy, I could sure go for a double tall skinny chocolate almond moo right now!)

Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs

Practical Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs.

ZGirl beat me to the punch on this one when she commented on my last tip. Here’s what ZGirl had to say, followed by my comments:

Another tip for creating a positive customer experience comes from past retail experience: do a daily walk-through of your library. Ideally, it should be done in the morning, before the library opens. Train yourself to walk through all areas while doing visual scans: what needs to be straightened, “fluffed”, cleaned, restocked, etc.? Pick up any trash that may be lying around, push in chairs, straighten piles of handouts/bookmarks, check your signs for currency (I hate seeing outdated signs), check book displays for neatness and fill in books as needed, write down any major problems that you can’t take care of immediately (repairs, lighting, IT issues, etc.) and report them to the appropriate person/department ASAP. If time allows, do more than one walk-through a day. Train others to do it. Pretty soon, you’ll start to do these ‘visual scans’ automatically throughout the day, without even thinking about it.

Other than a hearty agreement, I don’t have much to add to Zgirl’s suggestions other than this point: It can also be useful to do a virtual walk-through (a “click-through”?) of your website. Clean up those broken or outdated links. View your website through various browsers and screen resolutions to make sure your websites are viewable and properly scaled. Every page doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accessible and readable through the most common browsers (IE, Firefox/Mozilla, Safari) and screen resolutions (1024×768 is the most common, followed by 800×600. )

Next up, Walk Throughs… (no, that’s not a typo. yes, I meant to capitalize.)

Practical tips on creating a positive customer experience

For the next month or so I’m going to do a series of posts offering practical tips for creating a positive customer experience. Many of the tips will be ideas that can be immediately implemented, while a few will require a little bit of planning. I offer these tips as a smorgasbord, not a laundry list. They are born out of my own experiences as a library customer, from the experiences of friends and family, as well as from ideas generated at a recent organizational planning day I participated in.

Before I get into the tips, a caveat: Everything I suggest hereafter will specifically address the customer experience, but the uber-tip is that employees must be treated well, and with a basic level of trust. I don’t just mean that management must treat employees well. I mean employees must also treat management well, and co-workers must treat co-workers well. I’m talking 360 degrees. There should also be some shared sense, organizationally, of being on the same team, united for the same general purpose. I believe that a strong commitment to the customer experience in no way conflicts with a strong commitment to employees, and in my experience the two commitments correlate highly with each other.

One other point before getting into the tips: I am consciously using the term ‘customer experience’ rather than ‘customer service’. For me this not just a semantic difference but a reflection of how I’m beginning to think about these issues. ‘Customer service’ focuses on our behavior and offerings and looks at service from our perspective. (i.e. did we say “thank you”, do we offer a decent phone menu system, do we have convenient hours, etc.)

‘Customer experience’ focuses on the customer’s perception, and looks at service from the customer’s perspective (i.e. were they able to use the catalog, was the library open when they needed it, did they receive help from someone who treated them kindly.) I am finding it more useful to look at and think about the customer experience, and then “reverse engineer” to craft the organization’s services, offerings, and policies with an eye on improving the customer’s experience.

So…

Practical tip #1: Start thinking about your customers’ experience. What do they experience when they walk in the door? When they visit your webpage? When they call your phone? When they email you? Ask these questions and encourage co-workers to do the same. Get some pizzas for lunch and brainstorm in the lunch room. Make a list, pick one negative customer experience, and find a way to improve it.

Continuing Education: What We Want v. What We Need

In my day job, one of my core responsibilities is to provide continuing education opportunities to the staff of all 630 libraries (of all types) in South Jersey. My goal is to provide a slate of classes and workshops that will help library staff develop the skills they need to provide excellent library service to their customers. But what skills do they need? There’s the rub.

One of trickiest parts of my job is doing needs assessment. I use the basic tools: evaluation forms, online surveys, etc., but I’ve found that what people tell me they want/need is not always what they sign up for. And more interestingly, I’ve found that classes/workshops that NO ONE asked for are often the ones that fill up immediately and demand repeated encores for the next year or two.

That’s where the fun comes in! The Dylan lyric, “Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want” comes to mind, but in my case it’s the reverse: Library staff tell me what they want (and I schedule it), but sometimes I also give them what they need (even though no one asked for it.)

A perfect example of this is a recent class I scheduled on Web 2.0. I hadn’t heard Web 2.0 mentioned in any of many interactions with library staff, nor on any of the hundreds of workshop evaluation forms I’ve collected where I ask students for future class suggestions. But I had seen Web 2.0 (and Library 2.0) being discussed in many blogs, and the principles seemed highly relevant to the current and future health of library services. So I found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor (oops, Dylan on the brain) a super competent instructor (Sophie Brookover, PopMeister and recent LJ Mover and Shaker) and scheduled a class. It immediately filled up, and we’ve just about filled the encore class scheduled for June from the waiting list alone. Score!

I’ve seen this phenomena before, generally with semi cutting-edge topics. No one asked for blogging classes, but they filled immediately. No one asked for RSS classes. Again, filled. The same with classes on wireless a year or two back. What’s next? (um, that’s not a rhetorical question… someone please tell me what’s next.)

Blog reading, and the ability to track headlines through RSS has given me a keener eye for what’s coming down the pike, and helped me to broaden the scope of classes that I offer. Ever since I started following a few blogs through RSS (Firefox toolbar did it for me) I’ve been better informed and my knowledge and awareness of trends, tools, and timely tips is broader and deeper than ever before. I love the way RSS has made it simple, simple, simple to stay on top of an immense amount of information, not to mention the exponential serendipity of finding one great blog and being led (through blogroll or post) to other great blogs.

Getting back to the question, “What’s next?” I’d like to put that out there to you. What classes or workshops do you want? What do you need? What cutting-edge trend or tool do we need to know about today to give great service to our customers the day after tomorrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts.