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Five Good Ideas I’ve seen for Public Libraries (Others too!)

I’ve seen a bunch of good ideas lately so I thought I’d share them here:

Idea #1: Timelapse Video

My new office is in the Toronto Public Library’s North Yoprk Central branch.  I am amazed every morning that I arrive before opening.  There are often over a hundred of people waiting outside the door patiently waiting for the library  to open.  The crowd is polite and represents the entire mosaic of the community – every age, ethnicity, strollers, babes in arms, students with laptop bags . . . just everyone!

For starters I think that heading up the balcony on a few mornings and taking a picture of this crowd of library users would be a great visual.  But this could be so much more…

I once attended a staff day for a public library and the director had a video.  He had filmed the entire day-in-the-life of one of his library’s branches.  It was titled “No One Comes to Library Anymore”!  I don’t know the process, but it looked like a stop motion, fast-forward digital video of everyone walking into the library from the moment the doors were opened to scooting out the last patron and locking the dorrs at night. 

It was amazing.  It showed the ebb and flow of library use from the first of the day through the mobs of schoolkids after school, seniors in the afternoon,  Moms and Tots and strollers around storytime, people returning and borrowing books, and the occasional businessperson, homeless dude, and more.  It was a complete representation of the community the library served in person.  

He had used this video as part of his presentation to his municipal council and used it at the staff day meeting.  It really deserved wider, viral distribution!  It was very motivational and advocated for libraries through the user visits rather than just data and gate count raw statistics.   Seeing the people in your community using the library puts the lie to the title of the video.  It was awesome.

Idea #2: Security Guard Training

I often walk into public libraries all over North America.  I’ve seen every manner of security guard – friendly, sullen, texting non-stop, armed, etc.  I’ve discussed this a number of directors who often note that these guards are managed through an outsourced contract and bemoaned the lack of control they felt they had over the behaviour and performance.

The good idea?  Well one director was making it a priority when the contract was renewed – or was trying to re-open it – to set performance standards for this work.   She didn’t want the airport or prison security tone of the foreboding nature of some guards. She also didn’t want to have extreme turnover in the guards who were assigned to her branches.  She wanted them to get to know the patron profiles and be friendly and welcoming.   She wanted them to deflect security issues and be there for that primary purpose but also to make the library entry a welcoming place.  To that end she was reviewing other models – Walmart greeters (which are also security), Hotel doormen, TSA security staff, etc. and what training and performance requirements were for them.  Then the contract could be modeled for meeting the needs of the client . . . the library.  If the performance standards were articulate about opening doors for seniors, the disabled and strollers (not ignoring issues in front of the desk);  if they were encouraged to smile, greet users, hand out flyers about events; if they were trained well to serve as directional assistance and got to know the library they were working in well,  . . . in general be welcoming and more useful for the investment in their pay and time spent in the critical front door of the library.  Also, if possible, reducing the foreboding uniforms with an ‘ask me’ button, or less militaristic flare, was on the agenda.   

Seem to be worth the effort and this would go a long way to defusing issue before they start, while still maintaining the presence of security in the library.  This might not work in every context but it’s worth thinking about.

Idea #3: Displays

I see lots of book displays.  They are nicely curated but often sooooo dull.  Just piles of books that often neglect to even have a simple sign to alert people to the theme of the display.  There are plenty of books and guides out there on building better displays in libraries and taking some learning from retail or museum models.  Buy a few!  It would be an investment in higher circulation and better looking library displays.  I’ve seen displays that seem to think that book stands are enough and don’t add in physical objects that attract attention to the theme of the display.  And here’s the kicker . . . I rarely see a sign encouraging cardholders to borrow a book from the display!  Why not?  Most people might assume that they’re not supposed to touch the display.  There used to be a library that would NOT allow patrons to borrow the new books . . . incredible!  So, take a look at your book displays with fresh eyes, ask the patrons walking by if they see the theme, think they could borrow one of these books, etc.  This is as core to our business as displays are to retailers and museums.  Let’s learn from others. 

Idea #4: Shelving Children’s Books:

I’ve seen toddler board books shelved by author last name.  Yes, really.  Really?!  What kids ask for board books by author?  So one library I visited came in on a day the library was closed and dumped organized them into piles that matched the way the kids asked for board books.  Piles of books were collected on vehicles, alphabets, animals, etc.  Each pile was placed in bins on the lower shelves (this library originally had a more traditional librarian who shelved the board books on the higher shelves. unh huh)  for kids to rummage through based on their expressed interests with a picture on the bin that said the theme of the bin.  Then as an added bonus the section had toys that alerted all kids to the themes in the sections.  For the older kids, picture books were organized by them and the toy was atop the section.  Dinosaur books had a big dinosaur over them.  The same for the truck, princess, space, and other themes.  It seemed the perfect organization and display for the early reading – pre-Dewey OPAC – readers.

I know this isn’t by any means a new idea.  I’m just surprised that I still see kids book displays and shelves so patently misaligned with the reader seeking behaviours.

Idea #5: Customer Service Models

I’ve talked to a few directors about the difficult problem of building a culture of customer service that’s friendly and professional.  The range of customer service in libraries can span the gamut from good to bad.  I’ve seen it all and it’s a wonderful thing when it’s working great.  One model I notice for front desk staff is to encourage management staff to sit in a Starbucks (or at the least the 4-5 I visit every week to deal with my venti latter addiction).  I am amazed at the patter my Starbucks staff use to make me feel welcome.  Since I use a Starbucks cards they know my first name and use it.  Over time I get to know there’s from their semi-personalized nametags.  What is Starbucks doing right in their hiring and training and performance management practices that generates the happy feel to the Starbucks I visit in Toronto?  How do they sustain it over many branches and cities?

Anyway, there are some good training models for customer service that libraries could learn from.  Some of these companies offer training on how they implement their customer experience models and we could take some of their best practices and model them too.  They know that the user/guest/customer experience is critical to their successes.  Our cardholders and members deserve nothing less.

So here’s a fewI’ve seen that are worth considering:

  • Disney
  • Marriott
  • Ritz Carlton
  • Starbucks
  • Nordstrom

Each of them have a few things in common – a management angel/champion, customer service excellence embedded in their DNA, and empowering employees to make decisions based on the customer’s needs.

Anyway, there’s a few ideas I’ve seen that seem more somewhat more easily implemented than having a big strategic planing meeting.  It’s a thing that can be piloted in one branch as a trial and learn by doing.

There have been conference programs on these ideas in thepast but they still seem pretty good and might be worth pursuing as part of your tactical plan to support your library’s strategies.  Anyway, there just some things I’ve seen that address some of the stuff I’ve noticed in some libraries.



Posted on: July 10, 2013, 6:38 am Category: Uncategorized