Customer Service

My first job after finishing my undergraduate degree was a customer service representative for a company that sells comic books and comic paraphernalia from the major publishers to the stores. Depending on your level of interest in comics, this may or may not sound like a great job. I have limited interest in that world (although I am glad now to have learned about the industry), and for me the job was pretty miserable. It was high pressure and there were a lot of silly corporate rules to follow.

It did teach me a lot about interacting with people and with making quick decisions about which tasks were a priority and which could be tabled for later. I made great friends and looking back I am glad for the experience. My next job was as a crisis coordinator for a domestic violence resource center. This job required a more intimate level of customer service, and took priority management to a new level. Working with people whose lives were literally in danger has permanently shifted my outlook on what defines a crisis.

These past lives have made an enormous impact on how I approach librarianship. In fact, I’m talking about this in an upcoming presentation at my institution for MLIS Information Day 2014. I think our ultimate goal as librarians is to meet the needs of our users. This is a simple statement but it can be applied to all libraries and all users. Their needs may have nothing to do with a traditional view of what a library does, but I think it’s our responsibility to provide users with information about how to meet their needs even if we are not the answer.

Aaron Schmidt wrote about a similar concept in his blog post this week titled “Earning Trust”. He discusses the premise that our users must develop a level of trust (that we can meet their needs) in order for us to be useful. He then discusses a few key areas in which we can make that happen. My goal is always to leave each person I interact with during my library hours with a sense that the library is a helpful place. If I can meet their actual need while they are there it’s icing on the cake. This translates well to online interactions and doesn’t change if I’m interacting with students, faculty or staff.

This doesn’t mean we always have to be sweet or go over the top, but simply that each person who comes to me feels like they could do so again. I watched the recording of a webinar from ASERL that took place on Tuesday called “Successful Faculty Outreach Strategies in ASERL Libraries“. The focus was on scholarly communication, but each example given by the panel was really about getting people comfortable with you and showing them how you can meet their needs. Many of the presenters viewed their success in terms of who reached out and how that initial meeting/workshop/interaction led to more of the same.

I feel more fulfilled when a student comes to find me after a workshop than when I get them to show up for extra credit. I recently had a faculty member send me a PowerPoint file to ask me how the authors put together their slides. This is something I’m fairly skilled in so I offered to sit down with her and show her how to do something similar. It may not be filling the traditional librarian role, but it’s meeting my goal of being helpful and providing excellent customer service. That interaction could easily lead to in class library instruction or an invitation to a faculty meeting.

Customer service is a term that’s been over used, but at its core it’s meeting people’s needs to the best of your ability for the context. It’s easy to forget how important the concepts of good customer service are within the library setting because they become automatic. I hope that as a profession we can continue to focus on helping our users and providing value to our communities because we wouldn’t exist without their trust and support.


Outstanding Webinar

I’ve mentioned before that I love a good webinar, and I attended a fantastic one last week.  It was hosted by WebJunction, and was titled “Self-Directed Achievement: if you give library staff an hour”. The presenters were from Tooele City Library, a public library in Utah. They discussed a program they developed and implemented in their library to address the need for ongoing professional development in their staff. This is an issue we struggle with in my library. Our staff wants to learn but they don’t feel like they have the time or resources to do so. Large group trainings are rare and infrequent, and they don’t address the day to day skills that could be improved.

The presentation started with a discussion of the belief cycle, a theme I’m coming across in a lot of the instruction resources I’ve been reading/watching/exploring lately. Basically, people have a set of beliefs about their world (schemas). We all have them, and without them we’d never get anything done because they help us quickly assimilate information from our surroundings. The problem with these beliefs is that they are incredibly difficult to change, and we tend to set ourselves up to validate our beliefs and/or ignore evidence that would refute them. One example the presenters gave was that a librarian has the belief that they aren’t good with technology (so they don’t really try to improve, first of all), then they are unsuccessful helping a patron with a new technology which validates their original belief in their own abilities. This comes up a lot in my library. Many of our support staff are older and seem to struggle with technology, even when it’s something as simple as using a web form over a paper form to keep track of an issue.

It takes conscious effort to overcome our beliefs, change them, and move forward. In terms of instruction, my main goal in everything I do is to work on the underlying beliefs students (or faculty or staff) have about something (research, trustworthy information, technological abilities, etc.). It makes sense that if a student believes Google provides accurate, trustworthy information they will not take the time to consider using library sources when doing research. If we don’t start with beliefs we won’t get the behavior (ex. Using a specific database) that we desire.

The program discussed in the webinar is based loosely on the 23 Things, a blogging challenge that I mentioned in my last post. It is flexible, engages staff in reflection, and is easy to implement. I’m hesitant to describe it in detail because I think anyone interested at this point should spend the hour to view the recording. The presenters were excellent, their slides were well-designed and informative, they gave plenty of examples, and provided evidence of the value of the program. I’ve shared the webinar with my Dean and would love to implement something similar here. Even if that doesn’t happen, I have an idea of how I can make better use of my time in cultivating my own professional development.


In my last post I discussed the paradigm shift I experienced over the last few weeks. It’s made me think a lot about expectations and how they influence the way we interact with the world. This is a theme that’s been repeating in my personal and professional life lately. We form expectations for a reason, they help us assimilate information more rapidly and to be able to function efficiently in our day to day lives. We expect the alarm’s snooze button to be in the same place each day, and that our drive to work will be much the same as it was the day before. This helps us save time and mental energy. Expectations can become a problem when they put blinders on us and change the way we perceive situations around us. If we expect our day will be challenging we are more likely to be defensive and to get frustrated when completing tasks.

If we expect students to be bored in our one shot sessions, we may not put much enthusiasm into our presentation and therefore confirm our expectation. Being aware of these expectations is enormously helpful because it allows us to make decisions about how we choose to see our world and interact with it. This week happened to be webinar week for me. I’ve attended three webinars since last Thursday. I really enjoy attending webinars, especially ones that don’t have a traditional library focus. The State Library of North Carolina recently built a LibGuide called “The Train Station” listing upcoming conferences, webinars, NC specific trainings/workshops, and self-paced learning opportunities. I highly recommend it as a source to find training to any librarian, not just those of us in NC.

Two of the webinars were hosted by Training Magazine (“Write it Right! Use a Seven Step Process to Develop Learning Activities” & “The Neuroscience of High Impact Learning“), and one was from WebJunction (“What Would Walt Do?: Quality Customer Service for Libraries“). I expected that the “What Would Walt Do?” training would be the most helpful, followed by the “Write it Right!” and then the “Neuroscience of High Impact Learning”. Of course, owing to this week’s theme of expectations, I was completely reversed!

To start with the highlight, the “Neuroscience” webinar discussed how our brains process information and how that impacts learning and training. I have a Psychology background and always had an affinity for neuropsychology, so I admittedly attended this webinar because it spoke to that interest of mine. I’m hesitant to accept many of the claims about how our brain impacts our lives, there is still too much unknown and too many processes that act together. Fortunately, this presentation focused on a more holistic perspective rather than saying things like “The amygdala is the part of the brain for emotions.” The gist of the presentation was the AGES model (Attention, Generation, Emotions, Spacing) and how each of those four things impact learning. My biggest takeaways from the session were: I need to foster opportunities for insight in my classes, engage students so they can create solid mental maps, give students time to process big ideas, space their learning, and use social experiences to create positive emotions in the students. The concept of focusing on less big ideas and over a longer time coincide with my thoughts in my last post about developing a more long term model for our instruction.

The “Write it Right” webinar was good because the presenters provided an outstanding handout with a checklist of their seven step process for designing learning materials and a chart outlining myriad techniques/learning experiences and what type of information they are best used to teach. Their seven step process is similar to other reading I’ve done on developing instruction, but the simple presentation is useful for a quick refresher. I love the learning techniques chart and I picked up some new ones that I’d like to try in my classes. They talked about how to combine activities to meet different information needs and that learners with prior experience should be engaging in different activities than beginners. I will definitely be using their chart as a reference in my redesign process.

As I mentioned before, I thought the library-focused “What Would Walt Do?” presentation would be the most useful. Although I found the others more productive and in line with my current needs, it was still a good experience. I was a little frustrated because the presentation was very theoretical without much specific detail in how to implement some of the ideals in our libraries, but I still got some good takeaways. This presentation made me very glad to have attended a Black Belt Librarians workshop because safety and how to present rules was a big theme. The other big theme I noticed was expectations, and the need to set up our environments in a way that fosters good customer service. I think our library could benefit from thinking about our users’ needs and being more willing to put ourselves in the mindset of a student when we interact with students. One technique they discussed was analyzing your most frequently asked questions and then figuring out how to make those questions less likely, or how to give staff a framework for dealing with them. The key to all of this seems to be authenticity, and in truly respecting our patrons and fellow staff members.

I try to foster this in myself by taking notice of and reflecting on positive moments in my job. Yesterday a student who I helped last week broke out in a huge smile and waved at me when she saw me walk by. She didn’t need help or have a question, and she seemed genuinely glad to see me. In that moment I felt like a library rock star, and moments like that affirm that I made the right choice of vocation. When I notice one of my co-workers doing something well I try to make a point to let them know. It helps me to appreciate them, and I hope it helps them feel good about what they do.

As a final word on expectations, you can expect one more blog post from me next week. I’m working Monday night but I’m not sure if I’ll be inspired yet, but I aim to have something posted by Thursday. After that I’m officially on vacation (heading to Curacao!) and won’t be back in the library until January 2nd, hopefully to resume a normal blogging schedule.