Monday, May 25, 2009

Defending a free public library service

Universal access to information is a premise dating from the Victorian era, and a founding principle for New Zealand society. Access to information and education is not just for the wealthy classes, but for all.

Public Libraries evolved during this era, and were quickly established in every small, medium and large community throughout the land. Levin's first real public library was funded by Andrew Carnegie on condition that it was free for all.

A free public library is a long established, ethical, socially responsible and much loved service throughout New Zealand. Horowhenua is a socially and economically ‘deprived’ community in terms of the Deprivation Index. The libraries in Horowhenua have never, ever, experienced higher numbers of visitors and usage than in the last year. As this recession bites, that trend will only continue, stretching a system struggling to cope on existing budgets, staffing and space.

Horowhenua District Council is one of very few Councils in New Zealand to insist that library users raise 15% of their operating expenditure. That has been achieved historically, but only through the goodwill and donated labour of library staff and Friends of the Library who have fundraised the difference between the 8% raised through user charges and the 15% currently raised.

The proposed change whereby the library will have to raise up to 25% of operating expenditure is an outrage against the principles of universal access to information for all. Additionally, and what makes it even worse, is that according to the wording of the LTCCP, the entire amount must be raised through user charges alone. While fundraising for new services and special projects is possible, fundraising for core operating expenses like power and phone is not.

Two new, much needed, community centres are being planned for Levin and Foxton. No other community in New Zealand has been charged with fundraising to such an extent, in order to build public library buildings. Public libraries are core council business, and it is no wonder that charities and grant boards are finding it hard to fund the new libraries. Income previously raised locally through fundraising and grant applications to prop up library operating costs will need to be diverted towards funding the new community centres.

This year, a new targeted library rate has been established, and I applaud that move. The cost of providing a library service, around $1.70 a week per SUIP, is now transparent and can be recognized as the value that it is.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mid winter at Levin Library.

I love this scene. As a public librarian it makes my heart sing, and heres why:

A lovely young teenager, not a library-geek,
curled up in the adult library reading,
surrounded by books, a wide variety of biographies,
and magazines,
slightly cluttered, homey feel (no , we didn't put the blue chair there),
small, cosy, human-scale 'room',
a comfy leather couch with squishy arms, big enough to curl up on,
and its warm enough to take her winter coat off.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Riding the waves : Meyer on Management

Most of the management books I read generally provide good generic management tips and tricks that may be useful one day, but I have just read one which really struck a cord:
Setting the Table : The transforming power of hospitality in business by Danny Meyer. 2006. isbn: 9780060742751

While it is unashamedly about the restaurant trade, it has some great stuff for public librarians. More for me (so I won't forget) rather than any other audience, I have listed below the key points I took from the book - but it is well worth reading in its entirety!

On Hospitality
Hospitality is present when something happens for you - is absent when something happens to you. Libraries are about hospitality too.

Service is the technical delivery of a product or service, hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes a recipient feel. Service is about monologues, hospitality is about dialogue.

We need to be agents for the customer not gatekeepers for the organisation.

Task = quality = 49% and feeling = warmth = 51%.

Values of 51%ers:
  • Have an optimistic warmth.
  • Intelligent in a curiosity to learn way.
  • Excellence reflex: a natural tendency to do something as well as can be
  • Empathy: caring about how others feel
  • Integrity: natural inclination to be held accountable and to do the right thing with honesty and judgement.
The other 49% task / process / skill can be taught - the 51% can't. Hire 51%ers

Looking under rocks
Find out whats happening in the place by joining bits of information together, found by looking under rocks to see whats lying underneath.

Defining your core
The importance of identifying, defining and defending your core values through constant, gentle pressure.

Managing People
Treat your staff as if they were volunteers; they could have chosen someone else to work for but they chose you! Really relevant given our high dependency on volunteers in Horowhenua.

Talk. People will hop over ripples if they know they are coming and are prepared, its the unexpectness that knocks frogs of lily pads not the ripples themselves.

5 stakeholders in enlightened hospitality: employees (yes first), guests, community, suppliers then investors. Clients can tell if staff are happy, and that sense of goodwill prermeates the place giving soul (another Meyer-ism).

Surround yourself with ambassadors: you can't do everything yourself so grow the team, identify the talent, surround yourself with people who you trust to make good judgement calls in line with your core values.

On mistakes
Surfers not servers (I love this analogy!) Surfers love taking on the big waves and they know they may well crash and burn, but they get up and on. Mistakes are like waves: the skill is in how you ride it.

As for correcting mistakes: write the last chapter in the whole sorry saga - and make it good!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writing the last chapter

I've just been on the receiving end of superb customer service - and it felt great!

I have spent several weeks selecting wallpaper for my bedroom. After getting down to a shortlist of 3 I went to the local Resene shop who offered - yes offered - to obtain large samples so I could pin them up and see how they work with the light and furnishings etc. Great idea - and a service - which I gladly accepted.

This week I saw that Resene have a 40% sale off wallpaper, so I placed my order. Within 4 hours I was telephoned and told that my chosen paper was not being made any more. I was a bit disappointed, but mostly annoyed that I was going to have to start choosing all over again.

"No no" the man said, "Leave it with me and I'll see what I can do". So I called in this morning expecting to lumber home with another 6 sample books. Nope.

That lovely man had a bunch of samples he'd sorted out for me which were very close to what I had tried to order. I picked one, which I think is actually nicer than the one I had originally picked, he rang through to confirm supply, then placed the order. It won't get here this week but he would still honour the 40% discount.

That is great customer service.

That is the sort of customer service I expect our librarians to deliver. I shudder when I hear a customer told that a book is not available sorry, and then they watch the customer leave empty handed. What I want to see is that opportunity used to open the door to a conversation about what we do have that the client may be interested in.

I am reading restaurateur Danny Meyer's book on management (which I heard about on Twitter) and he talks about writing the 'last chapter'. He argues that when something goes wrong in terms of cutomer service there is a golden opportunity to write a great last chapter to the story; people always tell others when things go wrong and you can author a great ending to the story which reflects well on you! Make it right, but do more than that, make the situation better.

In the Resene scenario this morning I have got a better wallpaper, at a great discount, and the shop saved me time - and I am telling the story.

In the library example a client could leave having discovered a bunch of other great authors or a new section in the library, all in super quick time, and you can bet they'll tell their story too!