Archive for March, 2006

Dumping rules by the light, er, dark of the moon

Maybe it was the new moon on the 29th, but at the same time I was writing about Nordstrom’s one-rule employee handbook, Sophie Brookover was eloquently expressing her frustration with all the rules and red tape that libraries inflict on their customers. (see: Pop Goes the Library: Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite)

In Robert Spector’s book “Lessons from the Nordstrom Way” he devotes a whole chapter to “dumping the rules”. Spector suggests, rightly so methinks, that every rule — EVERY rule — is a barrier between the library and the customer. If you feel resistance to this idea and start thinking about all of the reasons you need the rules, I ask you to ponder: Do the rules make things easier/better for your customer?

It amazes me that Nordstrom is still one of the few stores out there to have a true no-questions-asked return policy. Most stores think that a return policy that liberal is a recipe for customer abuse. And you know what, some customers DO abuse it. But Nordstrom’s philosophy is to focus their attention and energy on giving great service to their great customers–the ones who never abuse the policy and greatly appreciate being able to return something 3 months later without getting a dirty look. What Nordstrom gets in return (seriously, no pun intended) is an extremely loyal and vocal customer base. Do they lose a little money when they take returns on items that other retailers wouldn’t even give store credit for? Sure, they lose a little. But they gain so much more. Do they “reward bad behavior” when they take a return on a leather jacket with the elbows worn away? Nordstrom (wisely) doesn’t look at it that way.

So are your rules designed to prevent the worst customers from taking advantage? Does someone on your staff suggest that dumping a rule is equivalent to “rewarding bad behavior?” Have you considered the price you are paying by punishing the majority of your good customers to deal with a few of the bad?

Suffice to say, I empathize with Sophie B’s frustration, and agree that we need to seriously evaluate the rules in our rule books and question the value of every one of them – from the customer’s perspective.


March 31, 2006 at 7:52 pm 16 comments

Use your good judgment in all situations…

In Janie’s first post she mentions that the quip, “sharing is the new black” has been rattling around her brain for a few days. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is because it’s beginning to feel like there’s no room left in my brain for anything to rattle. It feels more like that closet upstairs that’s already full, but every time I find some new interesting tchotske at a garage sale I bring it home and stick it in the closet. So now the closet’s full of cool stuff, but I don’t often stop to look at any of it, I just keep finding a little open space to shove in some more.

Library Garden is my place to take some of those ideas I’ve been accumulating and revisit them. Pay them some attention. Show them to my friends and colleagues. Talk about them. And in turn I hope to get turned on to some new ideas and develop a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on my own.

In no particular order here are some ideas/questions that have been stuck up in the old attic:

Customer Service
If you glanced at my bio you know I used to work for Nordstrom. It was one of my first “real” jobs (no funny hat, no dyno labelmaker nametag ), so I didn’t have the perspective to appreciate what a wonderful organization it is. On my first day of work I was handed the “Employee Handbook”. The Handbook is a 5 x 8 inch card that says “welcome to Nordstrom” and then moves on the rules: “Rule #1. Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.”

An employee handbook with one rule? “Use your good judgment in all situations.”? That’s it??? Then the store manager — an actual Nordstrom boy, who worked his way up to Store Manager; like every upper level employee, he had to start at the bottom — tells us we will NEVER get in any trouble for doing ANYTHING as long as we can demonstrate that we were doing it to deliver good service to the customer. OK, now here’s the thing: He really meant it.

Think about that for a minute. One rule, “use your good judgment” (note, they don’t say “best judgment”; they give employees credit for having good judgment right from day one.) One rule, followed by the encouragement to do anything that the low-level, inexperienced employee deems appropriate to give good customer service. That’s employee empowerment, and it’s that foundation of trust that naturally gives rise to the famous Nordstrom culture of customer service.

Now think about the experience of library customers. What is the experience of the customer that walks through your doors (real or virtual.) How different would their experience be if libraries told staff to “go out and give great service”, and meant it, and supported it, and rewarded it. How different? How different would the customer’s experience be if we ditched the rules?

You can guess my answer. My little plea is this: Think like a customer. Try to experience your library from the customer’s point of view. Ask them what you do right and what you could do better, but remember that many of them think your “nice” and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Also their expectations may be rather low… So in addition to talking to them put yourself in their footwear and walk a few laps around your library in their shoes. Ditto for your website. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Try calling your phone system, does it work well? Try renewing a book on that self-checkout machine over in the corner (yes the one with community newspapers piled on top – – and oh yeah, don’t forget to plug it in.) Does it work? Is it optimally placed and signed for customer usage?

I’ll be posting more in the future about library walk-throughs and some of things we’ve been doing in New Jersey to help libraries think about “Library as Place“. In the meantime I welcome you to take a peak at some of the material we generated in 2004 when NJLA chose “Lessons From the Nordstrom Way” as our first “Leading Through Reading” selection (think “What if every library staff member in NJ read the same book?”)

Well, this was going to be a laundry list of ideas (Library 2.0 is next on the list) but time she has run out. Talk to yuz soon.

March 30, 2006 at 6:56 am 1 comment

Sharing: It’s the New Black

Last week I was at Computers In Libraries 2006 where the buzz seemed to be all about wikis, collaboration and social software. While attending a panel presentation called Wikis in Action one of the panelists made an off-the-cuff comment that “sharing is the new black”. This quip has been rattling around in my brain for several days — it ranks right up there as one of my top 3 favorite quotes of the conference. So, if you are the clever panelist who said this, please step forward and identify yourself — I would like to give you proper attribution. I think it might have been Darren Chase from SUNY Stony Brook.

As The Library Garden takes root, I am once again pondering this quote as we are envisioning this blog to be a collaborative effort by several librarian editors. We want to create a blog that exemplifies the “new black” attitude of the Web at the dawn of 2006. The Web is now a place where:

We want to contribute to the content.
We want to comment on what others contribute.
We want space to express our ideas, likes, dislikes, etc.
We want to create, remix, socialize, and connect.
We want to work with others to add and to share our knowledge.

This weeks cover story of Newsweek highlights the trend of viewing the Web as a place for users to both consume and contribute:

Next Frontiers – Putting The ‘We’ in Web
From MySpace to Flickr And YouTube, Social-Network Sites Are Leading a New Tech Boom; User-Generated Movement Called ‘Web 2.0’ or ‘Live’ Web

As the Newsweek article states:

less than a decade ago, when we were first getting used to the idea of an Internet, people described the act of going online as venturing into some foreign realm called cyberspace. But that metaphor no longer applies. MySpace, Flickr and all the other newcomers aren’t places to go, but things to do, ways to express yourself, means to connect with others and extend your own horizons. Cyberspace was somewhere else. The Web is where we live.

As the Web evolves in to what Dan Chan of Daypop coined “The Living Web”, a place where users congregrate not just to find information but to share what they know and what they are thinking about, librarians need to continue to explore the opportunities that exist for weaving ourselves a place in this new social fabric.

Many physical libraries currently view themselves as the “community living room”, a place for people to congregrate, learn, share and discuss. How can we translate this in to the new social web that is rapidly emerging? Can we create an online version of the library as community living room? Is there room for a LibrarySpace next to MySpace?

Let’s get the discussion going. Let’s Collaborate… after all, sharing is the new black!

March 28, 2006 at 10:27 pm 4 comments

About Library Garden – Podcast

this is an audio post - click to play

March 28, 2006 at 8:25 pm 5 comments

About Library Garden

(You can reach us at librarygarden[at]

Library Garden has been conceived as an ongoing conversation among librarians with differing perspectives (public, academic, consortial, state, youth, LIS) but one shared goal: ensuring the health and relevance of libraries.

Library Garden is maintained by a team of contributing editors. We will each contribute to the blog, offering our individual perspectives on issues that affect or relate to libraries of all types. But we will also get together for regular topical conversations — conversations with each other, with others, with you — and post those conversations to the blog.

We love reading interviews, and often find them more interesting and stimulating than the articles that appear in our professional literature. Therefore, we intend to interview members of our extended library family, and occasionally interview folks from outside of the library fold, and post those interviews to the blog for your reading pleasure.

While the Garden is tended by our team of contributing editors, we would also like to open this forum to the occasional guest editor. If you have a piece you’d like to contribute, or discussion you’d like to be a part of, let us know.

Simple. We’re from New Jersey, the “Garden State”. Before you snicker, consider this: Our tiny little New Jersey ranks number 2 nationally in blueberry production, number 3 in cranberry production, number 3 in bell pepper production and number 4 in peach production. Also we have the best corn and tomatoes in the world. So there.

March 28, 2006 at 7:05 pm 1 comment

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