For the next few months I will posting here very infrequently.  I will be taking a sabbatical of sorts.  Most of my energies will be devoted to which is the class blog for my maker space course this summer.  I hope that you can join along our journey with us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Librarians Mind Your P’s & Q’s

I love the saying mind your P’s & Q’s.  Perhaps because I know what it really means, or because it is just solid advice. Mind your P’s and Q’s means mind your pints and quarts.  It comes from the 17th century tavern world.  It was a way for bartenders to remind their customers to not engage in drunk and disorderly conduct.

But why do librarians need to heed this advice?  Well, I recently attended the Minnesota Book Awards.  It is a great event put on by the Friends of the St Paul Public Library.  It highlights the best MN books of the year.  It is a huge gala with almost 1,000 attendees.  There I overheard a couple of librarians, perhaps with a few too many cocktails, launch into a diatribe against a particular book.  I also saw, what I will assume is a library patron or member of the general public, get that look of embarrassment and shame while overhearing the same conversation.  I can only assume that they were a fan of said book.

Witnessing this broke my heart.  So much so that I promptly went into my reference class and publicly apologized to my students for making fun of a well read romance novel.  A reader should NEVER feel embarrassed or ashamed for their reading preferences.  Even worse, that shame should never be the result of a conversation between two librarians.  If we turn off or turn away just one reader we have failed.

Ranganathan’s 5 laws of library science are so incredibly wise.  It wasn’t until this event that I think I fully grasped his second and third laws: every reader his or her book, and every book his or her reader.  His laws apply to more than just access to books.  While we no longer physically chain books to the shelf, we may be emotionally chaining them.  If we put a social stigma on a book or genre we are, in essence, restricting access to them.

You are the keeper of the book.  Your patrons defer to your judgement on books.  They look up to you on all matters book-related.  And here is the real sting, you are a librarian whether you are on the clock or not.  Even more, your patron base extends far beyond the library you work for.  When you are in a bar or on a bus hundreds of miles from your work, you are still a librarian and the reader sitting within earshot is still your patron.

So may you critique books in a way that doesn’t put down or shame their readers.  May you applaud, encourage, defend and lift up all reading preferences, and may you remember to mind your P’s & Q’s.

*side note. Why do we mostly poke fun at Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, romance and Christian fiction? Do we not see the misogynistic tone this takes?*

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Maker Space Course Coming to St Kate’s

I am so excited to be teaching a brand new course at St Catherine University.  The course is focusing on maker spaces and digital media labs in libraries.  Thanks to St. Kate’s I will be purchasing a 3D printer and Silhouette Cameo.  The working course description is:

This course is intended as an introduction to DIY culture and the maker movement. It focuses on developing creativity and learning through play and tinkering.  This is a hands-on course in experiential learning. Students will explore both physical and digital content creation including: music production, video production, 3D printing, computing, laser and vinyl cutting, and other tools.  Emphasis will be placed on the implications of the maker movement in libraries and the library’s role in STEM education.

We will explore 3D printing, paper and vinyl cutting, music production (Audacity), video production (iMovie), graphic design (Inkscape), photo editing (Gimp) and apply all these lovely skills to libraries.  Much of this class will be geeking out with this cool equipment so we can help patrons create the world they interact with.

These are the books I think we will use:

Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: The new industrial revolution. New York: Crown Business.

Hatch, M. (2014). The maker movement manifesto: Rules for innovation in the new world of crafters, hackers, and tinkerers.

Itō, M., & Antin, J. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Lang, D. (2013). Zero to maker.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace.

As I haven’t found a similar course anywhere, I’m very eager to hear peoples impressions, ideas, and suggestions.  Please feel free to share them with me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Customer Service is Dead: Long Live the Customer Experience

It has been some time since my last post.  I have been thinking about, reading, and researching the customer experience.  Technology, cultural shifts, and emerging trends have had a deep impact on what is traditional called customer service.  Good customer service is no longer enough.

When most of us now describe good customer service, we are actually describing a good customer experience.  Customer service, in the common sense, is dealing with customer problems.  This is only one part of the overall customer experience.  For example, I may go to a grocery store.  During my trip I may find everything I want, the prices might be fair, and I may encounter a problem with checkout.  During my problem, a manager can come over to help remedy my issue.  In this case, I likely received good customer service.  I have no real complaints about the transaction, but I doesn’t mean that I have a good customer experience.

Customer experience, grounded in the participatory culture we live it now, means so much more.  Customer experience expands beyond the problem solving typically found in good customer service.  To create another analogy, the seat belt is like customer service.  It serves its function to keep me safe and alive.  But just because my car has a seat belt doesn’t mean that I drive an AWESOME car.  The same is true with good customer service.  Just because you solved my problem with a smile on your face, doesn’t mean I had a great experience.  Truth be told, if you had to solve my problem in the first place, odds are I had a bad overall experience.  In other words, customer service is reactive, while customer experiences are proactive.

Customer experience includes the customer’s perception of the organization.
Am I proud to frequent the establishment?  Does it give me some sense of meaning or pride?  Not in the, oh I buy Apple look at me, but in the, I shop local to make a difference attitude.

It also includes the interaction with the organization.  Have you ever sent an email to an organization, not of a problem but of a suggestion, only to have that email fall on deaf ears?  Customers want to participate in organizations now a day.  I don’t mean being shareholders or voting members, but they want to be able to make a suggestion and see some action.  They want the organization to recognize the time they took to make a suggestion, and they want to organization to view them less as a revenue stream, and more as a partner with benefits to both sides.  Customers want relationships with the organizations they support.

Customer service usually focuses on an event, typically a problem.  Customer service, on the other hand, focuses on the feeling of the customer from start to finish.  In other words, customer service deals with a single transaction, while customer experience deals with the duration of the relationship between the customer and the organization.

I am always skeptical of an organization that has a customer service department.  It’s a telltale sign that an organization is committed to the wrong things.  Customer experience is a philosophy that is deeply engrained in the organization culture and DNA.  A customer service department means that good service isn’t everyone’s job.

I will write a follow up post to this in a few weeks that discusses employee empowerment, organizational culture, and customer participation, but I leave you with this question: Do you want to frequent an establishment that doesn’t recognize you as a human with a heart before it recognizes you as a revenue stream?


Filed under Uncategorized

The Day We Fight Back

I encourage all of my readers to take a moment out of your day to fight back against mass surveillance.  Please go to to call and/or email your representatives.
// Screenshot 2014-02-11 at 12.58.27 AM

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spring 2013/14 Syllabi for St Catherine University

If you are interested in reading a draft syllabus for the Spring 2013/14 semester for my SCU MLIS classes here you go

7040 Syllabus Spring Weeknight 2013-14 for my Tuesday Night Class

7040 Syllabus Spring 2013-14 for my Sunday Afternoon Class

Please note that these syllabi are subject to change.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Trader Joe’s Way for Libraries (a Manifesto Part III)

One of my highest read, and most satisfying post for me to write, was the Apple Way for Libraries (a Manifesto?).  In this post I summarize Apple’s customer service, user experience, and products and services and what libraries can learn from them.  I followed up this post with The Starbucks Way for Libraries (a Manifesto Part II), in this post I will highlight lessons from Trader Joe’s and their secrets for success.

Trader Joe’s does many things extremely well.  They are exceptional at employee loyalty, customer service, and customer loyalty.  I remember attending a LACONI library program in which a team captain from Trader Joe’s told us about their amazing customer service philosophy.  I also remember living in Grand Rapids, MI and listening to coworkers talk about driving to Detroit or Chicago to shop at Trader Joe’s.  They would take up lists from all of us for those specialty items we couldn’t live without.  I don’t think they made the trip solely to go to Trader Joe’s but certainly made it a priority of their travel.

So what is it about this company?  The first thing you notice about Trader Joe’s are their employees.  They are dressed in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts.  They are easy to spot and request assistance from.  And they move throughout the store with an attentiveness to their customers.  I know that as an employee, I hated the notion of uniforms, but man does it make a difference for customers.

We also see that Trader Joe’s employees are happy.  Like make me puke cheerleader happy.  As I will outline below, this is from Trader Joe’s employee selection process, compensation, culture and staff training program.  The experiences that these happy employees create for us customers truly sets them apart from their competition.  Let’s be honest, Trader Joe’s products are not that great.  They are actually kind of cheap, but the user experience blinds us to that.

Trader Joe’s pays their employees well.  This has always bothered me about libraries.  We pay our frontline staff darn near minimum wage.  We are then surprised at high turnover, poor customer service and low morale.  This is a very shortsighted philosophy.  Not only would higher pay lead to better performance, customer service, and improved morale, staff would work harder.  If staff work harder then you need less of them.  In the end, libraries could reduce overhead, and create better experiences by paying staff better.  Heck, even Starbucks and Apple recognize that a Walmart pay philosophy leads to poor customer experiences.

The higher pay allows Trader Joe’s to focus on the second key to their success, hiring exceptional employees.  I have long lamented that libraries just fill their organization with warm bodies.  This leads to such bad experiences for our patrons.  Trader Joe’s spends considerable time selecting their employees.  They run them through a vigorous training program.  They engrain the Trader Joe’s culture in them, and teach them exceptional customer service.  All Trader Joe’s captains (store managers) are promoted from within.  As a result, employees see growth potential.

I want to swing back to staff training.  As I continue to examine excellent organizations I have noticed a key trend.  Exceptional organizations have systematic employee training processes.  In the libraries I have worked in, lead, or asked about, the general trend for employee training is here is our policy manual and staff handbook please read them and sign this form.  Starbucks, Apple and Trader Joe’s would not let an employee anywhere near a customer until their employees are trained in the company’s expectations of customer service, educated in the company’s philosophy, and deeply exposed to the company’s culture.

The customer, or patron in our case, needs to be given consistent service.  Organizations ensure this through staff training programs.  My students just did the typical reference experience assignment in my introduction to reference course.  It is really surprising, and saddening, to hear about the number of students who went to the same library and got very different levels of customer service.  Solid staff training leads to consistent (and hopefully exceptional) customer experiences.

Trader Joe’s has engrained staff training and customer service deep into their culture.  The more I examine organizations and organizational excellence, the more I realize that the mostly invisible culture of organizations are what leads to its status as exceptional or mediocre.  This explains why library A and library B can have similar budgets, staff size, patron base and yet one can be held up as a great library while the other is mediocre (or worse).

A big part of Trader Joe’s culture is derived from its 7 Core Values:

  • Integrity. In the way we operate stores and the way we deal with people. Act as if the customer was looking over your shoulder all the time.
  • Product-driven. Our strategy emphasizes price, product, access, service, and experience. We want to excel at one, be very good at another, and meet customer expectations on the others.
  • Produce customer wow experiences. We celebrate the special way we treat and relate to our customers. We think retailing is all about customer experience, and that is what really differentiates us.
  • We hate bureaucracy. We give everyone a license to kill bureaucracy. All officers are in cubicles. The CEO is in a conference room. We have very few layers—a very simple organization.
  • Kaizen. Each one of us every day is trying to do a little better. This is infused into our training programs. We really stress teamwork and working together, while we do not do elaborate budgeting at the store level.
  • Treat the store as the brand. Individual products are not the brand. The store is. Brand is really the covenant between the company and the customer, and the real key is day-to-day consistency in meeting and satisfying needs. Last year we were very surprised and proud when an article came out in Entrepreneur magazine said three companies that got branding right were Krispy Kreme, Nike, and us.
  • We are a “national/neighborhood” company. Our customers benefit from our national buying ability, but we want each store to be close to the customer and really a part of their neighborhood.

Almost all of these core values are applicable to libraries.  As I read through them, I need to remind myself that these were not written for libraries.  Trader Joe’s employees need to read and memorize these values.  You can even find flashcards online that employees have made to help them pass the core values test.  Does your library have core values?  Do you know them by heart?  What about it’s mission and vision statement?  These types of artifacts are visible representations of the library’s culture.  If you don’t know them, it speaks volumes about the library culture. How these types of artifacts are created, and how your library is managed.

The core value I want to highlight most from Trader Joe’s is its commitment to kaizen.  This is a relative old management concept that is derived from the work of W. Edward Deming.  He helped shape this concept in Japanese manufacturing at the end of WWII.  It is a process that focuses on continual improvement to products, services and processes.  A kaizen philosophy is a focus on improving the experience for the patron at all levels of the organization.

We see an adaption of this philosophy in the Google 20 percent process which is also found at 3M and many other innovative companies.  The idea is that you give each employee 20 percent of their work time to work on projects that are important to them.  I was happy to see the results of this when I introduced it at Prairie State College.  While I couldn’t give the full 8 hours, I encouraged employees to take 4 hours a week and devote it to projects they are passionate about.  In 1 year we rolled out an institutional repository, held a one book program with the 11 public libraries in our college district, and rolled out some participatory services.

The lesson in kaizen, and from Apple and Starbucks is to empower employees.  Empowered employees feel more connected to the organization.  They take a deeper ownership over their work, and they are more committed to creating wow experiences for the patrons.

It takes me a lot of time to deeply examine these organizations.  I read a lot about their training programs.  I go to their locations and experience their customer service first hand.  I wish that libraries approached customer service, culture building and staff training the same way we approach cataloging.  We catalog through OCLC to achieve consistency in records, to reduce cost, and to share the burden.  Libraries should unite together to create stellar staff training programs and customer service philosophies.

Do you know of libraries that excel at this stuff?  Do you know of a great library staff training program?  I would love to read them, so please feel free to pass them along.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized