Juicy Visions: Reconnecting with purpose

Reconnecting with purpose. What juicy vision gave birth to your Library?

Want an easy yet powerful way to re-energize and re-focus your passion at work? Clear five minutes from your schedule (yeah, you’re busy, but you can do it.) Pick up a pencil or a keyboard or a crayon and answer this question: What juicy vision gave birth to your library?

Think about it: Libraries don’t just appear. Your library didn’t just pop fully-formed into existence one day, did it? I’ve never started a library, but I’m sure it’s not a quick or easy process. A short list of needed elements might include: Funding, employees, land, building, furniture, collections, utilities, finances, training, computers. The creation of your library may have also required an expression of the will of the people, perhaps in the form of a public vote or approval from a Board or Commission.

So how did your library get here? There must have been many people involved and they must have really wanted to create it. A lot of time and energy went into it. These people, these ‘founders’ could have been playing golf, or spending time with their children, or watching a movie. Why did they choose to invest some of their limited time on this planet into creating your library? There had to have been one heck of a compelling vision.


Before brick one was laid, or book one was laminated, your library begin its existence as a vision in someone’s mind. It must have been an exciting, juicy vision, so filled with energy that people felt compelled to share it, and talk about it, and invest their energy and time into making it a reality. That vision must have turned people on.

“Yeah, a library… I see it! Information. Books on anything and everything. A great collection of materials. It will be a living reflection of our community’s values. It will help ensure a healthy democracy. It will be a place where people can educate themselves—level the playing field. A place for focused study. A place for serendipitous discovery. A place to bring the kids. A place to relax. A place to be stimulated by new ideas. Yeah, I see it!!”

People got so jazzed by this vision that they wrote about it and talked about it, and got other people jazzed to a point where a community of people said, yeah, let’s do it! We want it! Let’s spend money. Let’s give our time. Let’s develop some land. Let’s build buildings! Lets create something that will reflect this juicy vision. Let’s bring it to life!


My question is, what was this vision that got everyone so turned on that they got into action? What was their original intention in creating your library? What got them so motivated? If you want to re-energize and re-focus, try reconnecting with the founding purpose of your organization.

Start there, at the beginning, but also remember that organizations are like people; they are capable of changing and growing. The cells in our bodies today are not the same cells that were in our bodies when we were born. We are, physically speaking, a completely different set of atoms. Yet there is still some organizing energy that makes you, you and makes me, me. Ten years ago we were different people, but I was me and you were you. Our goals may have changed since then. We may have acquired new skills and abilities. The roles we play may have changed, evolved, grown. Maybe we’ve abandoned certain roles in exchange for others that make more sense for us. This is also true about your library. The people may have changed, the building may have changed, and the mission may have even shifted, but it’s still the same library. So start with the founding vision, but also think about what vision animates your library today. And what vision might animate it tomorrow?


To reconnect to your library’s purpose, it might be helpful to explore these questions:

  • What juicy vision gave birth to our library?
  • How does that vision inform, animate, shape, and energize what we do today?
  • What is the purpose of our library today? Is the vision the same? If not, how has it changed?
  • Why does the library continue to exist?
  • What energy flows through this library, connecting all aspects of it?
  • What purpose does the library serve?
  • What purpose can the library serve?
  • What purpose do we want the library to serve?
  • What purpose do I want the library to serve?
  • What can I do to bring the juicy vision to life every day?

I’m sure there are other questions that I’m not seeing. If you see others to add to the list, please leave a comment–and tell me about your library’s juicy vision!

Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee

Originally Published at Library Garden

Kate Sheehan had a wonderful post a week or so ago, Customer Service Mind, Beginner Mind, in which she writes about the value of looking at things with a fresh eye. It reminded me that every time I ever started a new job, I was hyper-aware of all the wacky things about my new organization; the signs that had been taped to the door since 1973: the restrictive (or just plain arbitrary and weird) policies that seemed to have no rhyme nor reason; the lack of basic equipment available for staff (no sliderules or abaci, but close.)

These awarenesses weren’t always negative. Sometimes I was aware of the amazing benefit package that everyone else seemed to take for granted (or even grumble about) ; or an incredibly efficient work flow or communication mechanism — like a wall in the staff room with everyone’s picture (Facebook 1.0), or a Director that was actually available to speak with employees.

But no matter how strong or strange these awarenesses were, they always faded away within the first few weeks on the job. It didn’t take long before my new environment would simply register as “normal.” Seriously, there could have been a chimpanzee in a tuxedo singing the star-spangled banner in the lobby; but if he was there on day 1 and day 2, by day 3, I’d be nodding and saying, “morning George, you sound good today. Nice job on the bowtie…” In other words, I can’t underestimate the power of our brains to adapt and reset the benchmark for normal experience.

I always thought that those first few weeks as a new employee, when everyone told me everything and more, but no one asked me for MY thoughts or impressions, were a wasted opportunity. So when I became a department manager I made it part of the orientation process to squeeze these observations out of all new employees. I would literally take new employees to lunch and tell them that for the next few weeks, their perceptions were extremely valuable and encourage them to share with me if there was ANYTHING that we did that seemed odd, inefficient, wasteful, or stupid. Or amazing, creative, and blazingly brilliant.

If you can manage to get this data — heck, even one tiny piece of datum — from your new employees (give them a break now and then from reading the 250 page employee manual), you’ll have gotten some very useful information. So. Submitted for your approval, here are my Top Ten Questions To Ask Every New Employee. [drumroll please…]

  1. What was your first impression when you walked into the library?
  2. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment inside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  3. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment outside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  4. What are we doing that strikes you as wasteful — of time or money?
  5. What services are you surprised to learn that we are offering, for better or worse?
  6. What services are you surprised to learn that we are NOT offering, for better or worse?
  7. Are there any policies that you don’t understand the rationale for? Are there any policies that strike you as just plain nuts?
  8. What are your impressions of our website?
  9. What was your experience like when you called the library? What are your impressions of our phone system?
  10. What are your impressions of our customer service orientation? Are we customer-focused? What could we do to be more so?


BONUS QUESTIONS (for the brave ones out there)

  1. How friendly (or unfriendly) did the staff seem when you first walked in the door?
  2. What are we doing that strikes you as straight-up bat sh*t crazy?


If you consistently ask these questions of your new employees, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to recapture the newness of seeing, if only briefly, through borrowed, “beginner mind” eyes.

Dump the rules

Maybe it was the new moon on the 29th, but at the same time I was writing about Nordstrom’s one-rule employee handbook, Sophie Brookover was eloquently expressing her frustration with all the rules and red tape that libraries inflict on their customers. (see: Pop Goes the Library: Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite)

In Robert Spector’s book “Lessons from the Nordstrom Way” he devotes a whole chapter to “dumping the rules”. Spector suggests, rightly so methinks, that every rule — EVERY rule — is a barrier between the library and the customer. If you feel resistance to this idea and start thinking about all of the reasons you need the rules, I ask you to ponder: Do the rules make things easier/better for your customer?

It amazes me that Nordstrom is still one of the few stores out there to have a true no-questions-asked return policy. Most stores think that a return policy that liberal is a recipe for customer abuse. And you know what, some customers DO abuse it. But Nordstrom’s philosophy is to focus their attention and energy on giving great service to their great customers–the ones who never abuse the policy and greatly appreciate being able to return something 3 months later without getting a dirty look. What Nordstrom gets in return (seriously, no pun intended) is an extremely loyal and vocal customer base. Do they lose a little money when they take returns on items that other retailers wouldn’t even give store credit for? Sure, they lose a little. But they gain so much more. Do they “reward bad behavior” when they take a return on a leather jacket with the elbows worn away? Nordstrom (wisely) doesn’t look at it that way.

So are your rules designed to prevent the worst customers from taking advantage? Does someone on your staff suggest that dumping a rule is equivalent to “rewarding bad behavior?” Have you considered the price you are paying by punishing the majority of your good customers to deal with a few of the bad?

Suffice to say, I empathize with Sophie B’s frustration, and agree that we need to seriously evaluate the rules in our rule books and question the value of every one of them – from the customer’s perspective.