Archive for April, 2006

More NJLA Redux: Fantastic LGBTI Roundtable program!

So, this is the first time you’re hearing from me — I feel like I’ve been lurking too much and posting too little (actually not at all!)… But even several days after attending the Documenting their lives: LGBTIQ Identities program at NJLA on Tuesday, I find myself still thinking about it. The roundtable has put together some pretty amazing programs in the past — including others at this year’s conference, but the Identities program hit close to home for me, or at least down the street in Newark. The bulk of the program included a preview/trailer of The Sakia Gunn Film Project, a documentary that is currently in process and a discussion with the film’s creator, Chas Brack. For those of you who don’t know the story of Sakia Gunn, she was a 15 year-old black lesbian living in Newark — after leaving a club early on Mother’s Day in 2003, Sakia was stabbed in the chest by a man who had made a pass at her. Sakia and her friends had made it clear to the man that they were lesbians, and it is very clear that this was a hate crime, but Sakia’s death got very little media attention — and what attention the incident did garner did not make explicit the circumstances of the murder. Mr. Brack’s film (due out by early 2007) seems to be a tribute to Sakia, but it’s also a wake-up call to the rest of us. Sakia was poor, she was black and she was gay — and I see teens like her everyday. I can’t WAIT for this film to be finished so that I can (hopefully) have a showing at my library here in Elizabeth.

The discussion following the trailer was extremely interesting as well — there was a teacher from Newark Public High School in attendance and she shed some light on some of the aftermath of what had happened to Sakia. Program moderator, Laura Baldwin, also offered some further information — comparing media coverage of the Matthew Shepard murder to that of Sakia’s. [One researcher reported that in the two months following the murder of Shepard — a white, middle-class teen living in a rural area — reports of the crime showed up in over 500 major news outlets. In the two months following Sakia’s murder, only a handful (11 if I remember correctly) major news media outlets covered the story. And our own ABC affiliaten reported the murder and showed Sakia’s photo, but did not mention that this was a hate crime — or “bias crime” as it was ruled when Sakia’s murderer stood trial.]

So, what does all of this have to do with libraries? Well, first off, the big question is: are we serving our LGBTI populations? And on top of that, are we reaching out to LGBTI teens? AND, if we’re in an urban setting, are we being sensitive to the LGBTI patrons of color? As a community center, and usually a safe haven, are we doing enough to educate our patrons? Help them get the information they need?

The remainder of the NJLA presentation was a sampling of another documentary — one that was touching and funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s called No Dumb Questions and it follows a family (mom, dad and three young daughters) as they discuss how transgendered Uncle Bill is becoming Aunt Barbara. It’s a GREAT video and I think a great addition to library AV collections.

The LGBTI roundtable provided a bunch of great handouts at this program — and from what I understand, they will soon be posted to the NJLA website[], so I urge you to take a look. Many of the resources provided would aid in both collection development and just in a better understanding of the LGBTI community.


April 29, 2006 at 10:09 am

NJLA Program: Notes from: “How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders”

A big thanks to Kathy Schalk-Greene, Mount Laurel Library for organizing this program, inviting me to be on it, moderating it, and sharing her great notes with us! -pete

Notes from: “How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders”
NJLA Conference, April 25, 2006 Sponsored by the NJLA Member Services Committee
A 50 minute program…


Peter Bromberg ( is the Program Development Coordinator for the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative in Gibbsboro, NJ.

Leslie Burger ( has directed the Princeton Public Library since 1999 and is the president-elect of the American Library Association.

Mary Martin ( is currently working as Assistant Director of Glen Rock Public Library, a small public library in Bergen County.

Kurt W. Wagner ( coordinates Library Systems and web management at the David and Lorraine Cheng Library at William Paterson University.

Q1: Was there any decision you made or skill you learned early in your career that has served you well?


  • Don’t wear a skirt while working at a library with glass floors
  • Always ask why
  • Never take no for an answer
  • Continually challenge yourself
  • Be flexible


  • Don’t let fear rule you
  • If you make a mistake, you don’t die
  • Don’t assume that everyone knows less that you do (It’s hard to ask for help if you think you’re perfect)
  • Thank people for what they do

Q2: What role does technology play in how you do what you do?


  • Help others to understand the interrelated nature of these systems in libraries
  • Always learn something new


  • I use technology to control and manage my time
  • Not an early adopter … finally got a cell phone when I saw the benefit to me.
  • Five specific technologies that make my life better:
  1. GoToMyPC to access my desktop from anywhere
  2. Yahoo calendar and listservs
  3. RSS Feeds to scan headlines on 100+ blogs/sites (I use firefox live bookmarks and have just fallen in love with blogbridge.)
  4. FURL – great for project management, reading lists, general bookmarking and serendipitous discoveries!
  5. AIM Chat for online meetings .
  6. (Thought of this one late) Google Desktop–the lifesaving app for the perpetually disorganized. I love you Google Desktop. Don’t ever leave me.

Q3: Do you have a life outside your job? How do you find a balance between your personal and professional lives?


  • You don’t find balance on the street like loose change
  • Most choices can be revisited later
  • Sometimes you can’t help being out of balance


  • Always have a sense of proportion
  • Have activities outside of work
  • Don’t worry about this too much

Q4: How do you foster good communication with your staff?


  • You have to model good communication and show a willingness to listen without judgment
  • Realize that all communication is good, even “negative” feedback … it’s always better to know.
  • Proper response to negative feedback … “Thank you” (props to Pat Wagner for that tip)
  • Ask for what you need
  • Be fact-based (rather than judgmental) in your speech to others
  • Provide options… “where do we go from here?”
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. We’re all passionate and deeply concerned about the health of our libraries.


  • Send staff wide emails (even if you’re not sure they check it)
  • Communicate in many different ways
  • Library has an internal blog (encourage others to make this the default home page)
  • Lots of meetings (staff wide, department, librarians, task based)
  • Face book of pictures and names of all library staff, trustees, Friends, volunteers (on the blog, in a notebook in the staff room)
  • Write a personal blog (Leslie’s is de-mystifying the ALA presidency)

Q5: Do you ever feel overwhelmed? What do you when that happens?


  • First, freak out
  • Afterwards, get a grip
  • Then, prioritize what needs to be done
  • And after that identify those things you can do while trying to avoid the things that need to get done


  • I generally feel some amount of feeling overwhelmed. I go home more aware of everything that didn’t get done, but I’ve learned to manage this much better
  • Have other people in your life who can help keep things in perspective
  • Exercise regularly

Q6: What single piece of advice would you give to a librarian at the beginning of their career?


  • Learn to communicate well
  • Avoid energy vampires


  • Be open to new possibilities
  • Be willing to change your route
  • Conquer your fear, let it go
  • Never stop learning

See more NJLA program summaries at the official NJLA blog:

April 28, 2006 at 11:56 am 2 comments

Educational Role of Libraries

In a comment regarding PeterB’s post on library CE, JanieH said:

“I hope there is someone out there that can answer your not-so-rhetorical of ‘what’s next’ for both our sakes. . .For what it’s worth, I do see the same trend happening in training for the public at our library — what they want and what they need is becoming an issue when planning classes.”

I’ve been thinking about this and I’m starting to conclude that the educational role of libraries might be the ‘next big thing.’ Where else can you go to ask a question of a real person on almost any topic? I know some of you are thinking of the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, but technically is that free? And of course you could call an 800-number and talk to a rep over the phone for problems or tutorials for your software, hardware, or communications technology, but we all know how ineffective that procedure can be in fulfilling our needs. Other than taking a course or a workshop (which often cost lots of $), there are relatively few other opportunities for patrons to receive just-in-time, real-person help for computer issues.

At libraries of every kind, anyone can walk up to the reference desk and ask a computer question, get help on using an application or receive assistance in finding information on how to solve a technological problem. If libraries capitalize on this aspect of service, for which a gaping hole exists in our society, we could rule the world! Most computer problems that I encounter at my high school library or at the university reference desk are easily solved and within my ability range. Students ask for help in converting files between applications, using some of the easier features of common software, troubleshooting connectivity issues, or searching effectively for something online. By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 minute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially. If we could market the library’s natural in-person and online “computer troubleshooting and tutoring services,” we would both fill a niche and meet our patrons’ needs, thereby encouraging them to come to us for any kind of

Additionally, these types of computer questions — which are increasingly common areas of patron concern — are well within most librarians’ expertise. If they are not, they provide an opportunity for librarians to learn new skills and information that is immediately applicable on the job. If a technical problem cannot be solved in-house, it could encourage networking and mutual reliance on other organizations and resources, something we all agree is important.

April 28, 2006 at 8:33 am 8 comments

Rocking out on Pandora!

I was working online tonight doing my freelance gig as a VR Librarian on QandANJ and playing my customized Pogues and Tragically Hip radio stations in the background thanks to Pandora — one of my favorite Web 2.o goodies that I recently discovered. I was between questions when it struck me like a lightning bolt that we need an equivalent project and application in the library world. I am serious. We need to find a way to fund or create a “Book Genome Project” that is similar in size and scope to the Music Genome Project that was the impetus behind the creation and launch of Pandora.

Pandora made its public debut about 6 months ago and it was recently named one of the top freebies in PC World’s recent article 101 Fabulous Freebies. For those of you who have not yet discovered Pandora I urge you to go play with it — just be warned that it is addictive. You can also read a fantastic interview about Pandora on Blog that Web or read the Wikipedia entry for more information.

So, back to my lightning bolt — a “Book Genome Project”. I know we have many reader’s advisory tools and even databases such as Ebsco’s NoveList to help our customers select books, but they all seem “Oh So 1.0” when put in a side-by-side comparison with Pandora.

What I like best about Pandora (besides the fact that it always seems to play music that I like based up on one suggestion) is their objective to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level”. They really seem to be doing it. How? By assigning a variety of attributes to songs that get at the core of what the music is really about and what people might like about that particular song.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool that was freely available on the web and simple to use that captured “the essence” of books. I doubt I am the first to have thought of this, but the way I am envisioning might be unique. A Pandora replication for fiction and non-fiction to help connect people to books. It is late at night and I have not had time to think this all the way through… but I believe I am on to something. I would love suggestions on how we could create our own Pandora for the library world.

More to follow on this (after I get some sleep).

April 27, 2006 at 11:58 pm 18 comments

Howdy from NJLA Conference

I’m sitting here at lunch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on a beautiful, sunny day in Long Branch, NJ. Today is the final day of the NJLA conference which has been filled with wonderful programs and many great, spontaneous conversations with colleagues.

There are some good program summaries already posted at:, the official NJLA blog managed by PGTL blogger Sophie Brookover. Sophie did a great program, along with Palinet’s John Iliff, “Feeding The World Information: Blogging, RSS, and Podcasting,” John did a wonderful program earlier in the day on Web 2.0 that was aimed at library administrators.

I was on a panel program, and I’ll have a summary of that program up on the blog soon, along with more goodies I collected at other programs.

Gotta run if I’m going get a seat for Maureen Sullivan on Appreciative Inquiry!

(ps, get the njla podcast feed at:

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April 26, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Little bits of what?

I just finished watching Scott Pelley’s interview of Starbucks President Howard Schultz on 60 minutes and I’m inspired to share something that I wrote a few weeks ago but then felt shy about posting.

Why the change of heart? It was something Schultz said early in the interview. He told Pelley that an employee had coined the phrase, ‘We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls.” Pelly’s cynical response was, “oh, c’mon you’re blowing smoke.” Maybe, but… Here’s the post that’s been sitting in my drafts folder:

My wife and I were recently reminiscing about our first date and she remarked, “Yeah, there we were on our first date talking about customer service. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.” Maybe that’s not the best reason to be passionate about customer service, but it’s nice icing on the cake. 🙂

I remember telling her that I loved working at the reference desk, just as I had loved working at Nordstrom, or at my college jobs working in a pizza place, and delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. My secret was this: People thought I was giving them little bits of information, or dress shirts, or slices of pizza, or drugs, but I was really giving them little bits of love.

My future wife’s reaction to this was, and I think I’m quoting exactly, “OK, now you’re starting to freak me out a little bit.” So I went on to explain in less freaky terms that what I enjoyed about providing customer service was the opportunity to connect with other people, if only briefly, and possibly make their day just a little brighter. Regardless of the specific transaction (reference, pizza, dress shirts, prescriptions), I was also (or primarily) giving them a little bit of myself, and that was my real job. If little ‘bits of love’ is too freaky, so be it. Little bits of fill-in-the-blank. Kindness. Caring. Service.

So in light of my own freaky customer service inclinations I’m inclined to believe that Howard Schultz was not blowing steam up Pelley’s espresso. (Boy, I could sure go for a double tall skinny chocolate almond moo right now!)

April 23, 2006 at 6:58 pm 2 comments

Do Away with the Long Forms — Keep it Simple!

When was the last time you really examined and overhauled your library’s email reference service? Perhaps it is time for you to do so now. If your library can’t find the way to provide IM service just yet then at least make sure you have an email reference service that is reflective of the changing expectations of library customers.

It seems to me that many libraries wrote policies and procedures for providing reference by email 5+ years ago and have not revisted them since. I did a quick informal survey of several library web sites and what I found was quite disheartening. I found lots of email policies with rule upon rule right up front that actually seemed to discourage the library customer from using the service. Or I found big long forms that act as a barrier to asking a question quickly. Perhaps back when email was a “new service” for the reference department these rules and forms had a place, but I believe it is time to break down the barriers.

We had a long, clunky form with lots of rules preceding it at my library for many years. Several months ago we had a departmental meeting where we discussed why we were holding on to the rules and form. We could find no good reason. So we did away with the rules and revised the form… and watched our email question statistics rise as a result. Here is our new form, it is quick and easy to use and a step in the right direction.

We still have a page with policies (several of which I do not agree with and would like to see gone and some of which have been added by administration recently), but at least the policy does not clutter up the main page and force the questioner to scroll forever to get to a form or email address.

Take a good look at this one representative example. I could list dozens that are similar to this, but this example is from a public library that won a “National Award for Library Service” (and I have edited out several sentences for the sake of brevity):

E-Mail Reference Service is designed to answer your brief, factual questions. We can also provide suggestions to help you find the answer you need, assist you with search strategies, and help you learn more about the library’s collections and services. Please fill in the form below to request information.

You can ask us to:
*look up dates, names, spellings, definitions, brief biographical or historical information
*locate addresses/phone numbers for businesses, associations and government
*suggest other information sources for your question.

Remember: You can search our Library Catalog, check availability of books and other materials in our collection, renew your checked out items, and place holds. Please note our many Electronic Resources that can be accessed from home by library cardholders.

We will send an e-mail to update you on the status of your request if more than 2 business days are needed to answer your question.

If your question is in-depth, or you need a faster answer, please call us! You can always speak directly to a reference librarian during our open hours by visiting or calling Reference Services Department.

If I came across this as a library customer it is likely I would not ask my questions as it seems like they don’t really want to provide email service. They have put forth so many rules that I would feel uncertain if my questions met the parameters. To make matters worse, this lengthy preamble is followed by an even lengthier form that tries to simulate a reference interview.

Why do so many libraries insist that only “brief factual” questions can be answered via email? To me, it makes more sense to have in-depth questions come in via email so that staff has time to research without the pressure of the person standing in front of them.

The example I gave is doing one thing right, letting patrons know that they will respond in a somewhat timely fashion. I have noticed several libraries that have policies in place that say they will answer in 2-3 working days and not on weekends at all. In our “instant everything” society having a turnaround more than an hour or two is not acceptable. If you are going to provide email reference service, you need to check the inbox continually and reply as soon as possible (even if that reply is just a confirmation that you have received or are working on the question). If a library customer leaves a message on voice mail we never wait 2-3 days to reply to that question. Why do we wait so long to reply to email questions? Do they not deserve the same courtesy as telephone reference questions?

I would like to give props to Thomas Ford Memorial Library and their minimalist form that encourages (not discourages) questions.

I urge everyone to look at their email reference service (I will be challenging my library to do the same) and see how we can turn this Library 1.0 service in to something that is more user-friendly in a 2.0 World.

Edited to Add:

On the drive to work I was thinking about this some more. I don’t want to come across as saying we don’t need policies to govern these services, clearly we do. I just want to examine how much of these policies need to be included on the web site. Do we have our list of what you can and can not ask posted in front of us as a sign at the reference desk? Nope. Why do the same for email.
If someone emails with a question that is out of the boundaries of the service or requires further follow-up, then email them back with an explanation or ask for a phone number so you can call and talk to them. At least let them get the transaction started. Make sense?
Also, if you are feeling a little bit down after looking at your email service then this should make you feel better. What got me really thinking about this topic again was a result of my emailing a question to a U.S. government agency last Monday regarding an issue of some urgency in my personal life. I had been on hold for well over an hour and gotten nowhere so I tried their email service and here is the auto-reply I received:
Your question has been received. Due to a backlog in emails you should expect a response from us within 10 to 15 business days.

I am still waiting for my real reply. I should have used the Pony Express. It would have been faster.

April 23, 2006 at 7:59 am 6 comments

Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs

Practical Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs.

ZGirl beat me to the punch on this one when she commented on my last tip. Here’s what ZGirl had to say, followed by my comments:

Another tip for creating a positive customer experience comes from past retail experience: do a daily walk-through of your library. Ideally, it should be done in the morning, before the library opens. Train yourself to walk through all areas while doing visual scans: what needs to be straightened, “fluffed”, cleaned, restocked, etc.? Pick up any trash that may be lying around, push in chairs, straighten piles of handouts/bookmarks, check your signs for currency (I hate seeing outdated signs), check book displays for neatness and fill in books as needed, write down any major problems that you can’t take care of immediately (repairs, lighting, IT issues, etc.) and report them to the appropriate person/department ASAP. If time allows, do more than one walk-through a day. Train others to do it. Pretty soon, you’ll start to do these ‘visual scans’ automatically throughout the day, without even thinking about it.

Other than a hearty agreement, I don’t have much to add to Zgirl’s suggestions other than this point: It can also be useful to do a virutal walk-through (a “click-through”?) of your website. Clean up those broken or outdated links. View your website through various browsers and screen resolutions to make sure your websites are viewable and properly scaled. Every page doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accessible and readable through the most common browsers (IE, Firefox/Mozilla, Safari) and screen resolutions (1024×768 is the most common, followed by 800×600. )

Next up, Walk Throughs… (no, that’s not a typo. yes, I meant to capitalize.)

April 20, 2006 at 9:33 pm 2 comments

What Libraries Can Learn from ‘Snakes on a Plane’

OK, so even CNN (search for ‘Snake Appeal;’ video clip aired Apr. 14) has picked up the story about how bloggers are affecting Hollywood. . . Excitement about the truly simple title and plot of the forthcoming movie Snakes on a Plane is amazing; use your favorite search engine to find “Snakes on a plane blog” (warning: foul language ensues). Libraries truly have much to learn from this phenomenon!

Imagine your library users getting this excited about your collection, facility, or services. . .

  • They understand what you’re offering right from its title, and
  • They help create it, modify it, and market it to others

What could be better?! Somehow the traditional model of libraries — in which we collect stuff and then loan it out to folks only via strict rule-governed interpersonal or technological exchanges — is not this exciting. The concept of Snakes on a Plane is simple and easy for everyone to understand. In fact, it simultaneously works on several levels (perhaps for different “users”) — the literal, the horrific, the ironic, and the twisted. It engenders creativity, personalization, and a multidirectional flow of discussion. Apparently, it spawns dynamic change and improvements, and gives “users” a feeling of ownership and co-creation whether they influenced the final product or not. Talk about customer service lessons!

April 15, 2006 at 10:02 pm 6 comments

On underwear, beanies, and other fashion statements…

Since Pete is planning on a series dealing with topics related to customer experience for his next few posts, I thought I would toss this in to the ring for discussion. File it under “news of the weird” or some such title. The headline certainly caught my eye! I certainly would not want to be a student and have to use this library for my research. It doth seem to me that the library staff at this school has found several great ways to deter use of the library! Way to go!

Librarians ban visible underwear
A Swedish school library is refusing to lend books to pupils if their underwear is showing.
Pupils of Tullbro School in Falkenberg do not have to wear a uniform but librarians are clamping down on some teenage fashions.
Children who wear hipsters which show off their underwear are not allowed to borrow books, reports Hallands Nyheter newspaper.
Wearers of baseball caps and beanies are also banned from using the library.

Source: Anonova

April 14, 2006 at 8:08 pm 4 comments

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