Managing the infrastructure

My favorite movie is Field of Dreams, in which Ray Kinsella/Kevin Kostner builds a baseball field that enables his vision to become reality. The baseball field provides the infrastructure to set the scene for the players to come out of the cornfield to make the game. Shoeless Joe Jackson/Ray Liotta said “If you build it, he will come.” And when Ray built it, he and others did come.

That’s what good management does; it enables, creates, and maintains infrastructure and environment. It’s the playing field where good customer service can happen. Infrastructure is everything from facilities to personnel to technology and other tools. In libraries and library service agencies (like ours), the people who provide the services are our most valuable asset.

Working for the military, I learned that there are 2 critical tasks in management – take care of your people and make the boss look good. Get those 2 things down, and your career is secure. Screw it up and look for another job. It’s really a pretty basic concept. Take care of the people and make their environment one in which they can take care of the business. Take care of the boss, and the boss’ll take care of you – and everybody’s got a boss, whether it’s the CEO or the taxpayers.

Take a look at a business (whether a library or a coffeeshop) where you get good service. I’m pretty sure the employees are happy and fulfilled. Their surroundings are clean and up to date, their tools work, expectations are clear, and they have a good sense of team spirit. That’s what the good manager does – makes sure all those environmental and human factors are in place.

Library service for military families

Minnesota National Guard troops will be home this summer, according to almost every news source in Minnesota. The Minnesota division has served almost 2 years, longer than any other state’s Guard division. As a former military librarian as well as a military spouse and mom (retired USAF), I feel the excitement with every one of those families.

While my family went through numerous deployments, we always lived on a military installation where the infrastructure provided lots of support and the families around us shared the same experiences as we did. Guard troops will return directly to Hometown Minnesota after a short demobilization period at Fort McCoy.

All troops don’t live near their Guard units and most hometown communities don’t have a very experienced long-term support structure to help military families. Most military families will attest to the fact that coming home is only the beginning of stressful family times, as they re-acclimate to life back together, sometimes more different than the same as it was before deployment.

Community libraries are well placed to function as an information source to military families to help them through the next period, reintegration. I encourage library staff members to familiarize themselves with the information on these two resources. You never know when you’re working the desk and can offer something of value to military families.

Image and impact

Does appearance really matter? Or is it true what my mother used to tell me as an awkward adolescent that “it’s what’s inside that counts.” (sorry, Mom, it didn’t cut it then, and it doesn’t cut it now.) I lean more to the “what you see is what you get” idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about image lately. Joyce Valenza admonished her listeners to model the “information professional” in her presentation at Computers in Libraries. And I think she meant in every way from actions to image. When I was training to be a customer service instructor for the squadron in my prior life as a civilian working for the military, I attended Fred Pryor customer service training. One thought stuck in my mind — impact is affected 83% by appearance and 17% by what is said. Watching the Today show this morning, one topic was body language – the guest said 90% of impression is made by what is observed.

While these statistics are pretty unscientific, I think they say something about the image we present both for ourselves as information professionals and also for the library institution. And I think that mantel is on us whether we’re punched in on company time, or buying a gallon of milk at the gas station. This reminds me of a friend who is a Mary Kay consultant, who says her training emphasizes to BE the Mary Kay product whenever and wherever she is — which includes dropping her kids off at school in the morning. My friends who are teachers are very cognizant of their image and actions in their communities. I think librarians who portray a professional demeanor (even in jeans at the garden shop – where I will be later today) will leave a lasting impression of someone worthy of trust to any citizen or board member they encounter.

I even bought a “Radical Militant Librarian” button a couple years ago, in a moment reminiscent of my college days. No, I didn’t wear the button, since that’s not the kind of sound-bite impression I want to make to the infinitely more people I encounter than will ever get to know me enough to understand what that pithy statement means. A librarian colleague has a T-shirt with an irreverent, though humorous, comment that uses a street word that I would not say in any customer or office communications. Would I wear it? No, because I can’t control the occurence of opportunistic moments that may make or break someone’s opinions and make lasting impacts on libraries or even my future career path.

Not too many years ago, businesses had strict dress codes, with the intent of modeling for the customers a professional image of their company. Gradually, about the time of the tech revolution, we saw an erosion of professional dress standards not only on blue-jeans Fridays but any time through the week. In recent years, many companies have returned to a dress code for employees. (although, I still struggle with what exactly “business casual” is — I think it might have something to do with the brand/price tag?) The fast food industry usually requires company-supplied shirts and uniform pants. Big box stores like Target require company-colored polo shirts. Even WalMart, in its marketing efforts to upgrade its image, is phasing in a uniform shirt for its employees.

And personal appearance is only one part of image. Other clues can send messages too. I was shocked at one management training class I attended that advocated a practice that the interviewer should walk the prospective employees back to their cars after interviews, assessing their vehicle condition, cleanliness, etc. as a point of character. And, from the employee side – someone I know who was interviewing with a certain company, arrived in town early and found the homes of management team members (using phone book addresses), looking for clues about their personal priorities.

All food for thought, I guess. And this leads to appearance of libraries – condition and decor . . . but that’s another blog post.

Giving ’em what they want – independence

Last week when I went to the bank on the President’s Day holiday I didn’t expect it to be open, so I had my deposit ready in one of those ATM deposit envelopes. When I drove up to the 55th St NW Wells Fargo, I was pretty surprised to see the drive-up open — 6 stalls worth, all with green open lights inviting customers in. Only a single car was at the window at the far left, by the teller. What was truly amazing was that the far right ATM machine had a waiting line, in which I was number 5.

What does this have to do with libraries? It appears that in banking (and other things), people prefer self-service. As I sat in line, listening to my Sirius tunes, I pondered my first experience with self-service in libraries. While working for the Air Force Library Service in the early 90s, we got a 3M self-check machine. (Never mind that it took a year for all the installation challenges to be worked out.) Our customers would stand in line to use that machine, rather than step over to the circulation desk, even though we had great staff on the desk. Just recently when I was picking up books at my local library in Rochester, I saw the same phenomenon. I think it has to do with that we as a culture aren’t too far from the stubborn toddler mentality that says “I can do it myself.”

So here’s the message. As important as we (the collective voice of the traditional librarian) think we are, as much as we want to disavow the technology that will put control in the customers’ hands, as unimportant as we think unmediated requesting is, as much power as we want to keep in the name of patron service, this is where the public’s mind is at. Preferring to “do it myself” – even if it means spending time in line for the single self-service station.

Libraries learn from bookstores

INFOcus is the e-newsletter publication of the Librarian’s Yellow Pages. Today’s issue contains a great textbook on marketing, displays, and signage. It reminds me of my first days working in a library (where I had accidentally landed before I became a card-carrying MLS Librarian). My assignment was to build displays around Chase’s Calendar of Events. For instance, who would have ever thought (without Chase’s) that today is “Belly Laugh Day.” Anyway, it sure made me mad when I worked all afternoon to pull out all the little-circulated books on a particular topic to find the display bunker emptied out following the 5:00 after-work rush. I quickly learned the wisdom of showcasing our wares.

What libraries can learn from bookstores: Applying bookstore design to public libraries gives a whole lot of ideas – new as well as some I’ve forgotten. The article includes an interview with a former supervisor of a Barnes and Noble children’s section. Some great ideas:

  • Everyone is cross-trained. Workers in the cafe area can provide direction to customers.
  • Lists of bestsellers posted in strategic places.
  • Everyone is expected to know the top ten bestsellers and where they are.
  • Staff receive sheets on release dates and expected arrival dates.
  • Everyone works the checkout.
  • Staff spend days in assigned areas shelving new books.
  • Customers are connected with and help is offered.
  • Customers smell coffee & pastries.
  • Music favors targeted customers (B&N targets baby boomers, plays classical music; Borders targets Gen X, plays jazzier music).
  • Barnes & Noble stores have brighter lighting than other stores. Experts say brighter light suggests lower prices.
  • Power aisles lead customers to all parts of store. Displays line the power aisles.
  • Reduce information overload. Shelve by genre, use shorter shelves.
  • Booklists and recommendations

Lots more on signage and displays. Good resource.

Carambas, it’s good!

It’s an occupational hazard, or maybe just a wierd sort of hobby. Whenever I’m in any business, I look for customer service, especially as it parallels that in libraries. Tonight I was at my favorite Mexican restaurant, and saw a textbook illustrated right before my eyes!

  • When we walked in the place was full . . . people were enjoying themselves, kids were noticeably welcomed.
  • The staff, and especially the owner, were smiling and greeting everyone.
  • Service was prompt, the food arrived with a smile.
  • The product was attractive and fantastic as always.
  • Several times someone spoke to us, finding out if we needed anything.
  • We must have come right after a rush — suddenly a bunch of people left and there was a lull.
  • The staff, led by the owner, grabbed rags and sweepers and bustled around, tidying up and putting things in order.
  • The owner made a point to come over, sat down at an ajoining table, and chatted with us.
  • We complimented him on his growing business.
  • He said he’s had a number of invitations to move it elsewhere. But he likes the clientele and service he can provide right there, where his customers are, in the homey neighborhood that’s not known as a prime location or one of the better places in town.

We left, promising to return soon, as we always do. We got in our car which was parked in front of another food place on the strip mall. There was nobody in it, and the workers were lounging in the booths looking bored. Not too hard to figure out why the restaurant we had visited was getting all the business.