Archive for January, 2008

‘Just give them the ichthyo-‘ Lessons in customer service through the eyes of a fishmonger

Anyone who knew what ichthyo was without having to look it up wins a candy bar, on me.*

Scenario 1:

Can you imagine walking into a fish market, asking the fishmonger for a pound of cod and him responding, “Here, I’ll show you how to fish.”

That’s okay you assure him and say you would just prefer to get the fish from him.

“But if I show you how to fish, you wont have to ask me for it.” His demeanor is still pleasant but he is clearly showing that his time could be better spent doing other things than finding and weighing fish for you.

You assure the monger that you understand but, at this time, you would rather just get the fish. And besides, looking around the store, you wouldn’t even begin to know where the cod was located. Your response incurs a sigh of annoyance as the fishmonger proceeds to process your request.

As bizarre as the scenario sounds, it’s not uncommon to see this type of customer service in library staff.

We’ve been trained with the idea that we need to teach our patrons to use library resources. And while this can be beneficial for patron and staff alike, do we always have to turn an information request into a teachable moment?

What’s wrong with just giving them the fish?

What’s more bizarre is that we feel the need to institute this type of attitude but then get upset at patrons who do try to find their own information.

Scenario 2:

You decide to take the fishmongers offer and learn to fish. After a quick five-minute lesson on casting a line and setting the reel he let’s you on your way. When you finally catch a fish you bring it to the fishmonger he takes a quick look at it and snaps that the fish is no good. He cannot believe that you would even consider taking this fish from the pond and eating it.

You’re confused. You go into detail of how, like he instructed, you went to the pond, cast out the line and caught a fish on the end of the line. As far as you’re concerned, the trip was successful because A) you wanted a fish and B) you caught one.

“Yes, but you’re using the wrong pond! And look at the fish, it is not meaty, healthy or well fed. Don’t you know the difference between a good fish and a bad fish?”

Ummm, Isn’t that why you came to the fishmonger in the first place!?

Man, you can’t win! First, we hassle the patrons with insisting on them doing the research themselves but, once they do, we are annoyed by the resources they choose.

Sure, the difference between good and bad resources might be obvious to us, as well it should be. We went to school and got a Masters in Information Sciences for this very thing. Our patrons did not.

As much as we want to create independent researchers, we need to take our efforts a step further and teach our patrons how to find quality resources.

And don’t quality resources depend on what the information’s intended use is?

Scenario 3:

The fishmonger continues to chastise you for your fish.

“What could you possibly want to do with this fish!? The quality of this fish is certainly not acceptable for a four-star restaurant and I hardly find it passable for consumption in a household either.”

“Actually, I was going to stuff it and mount it on my wall” you say. “I didn’t think I needed to worry about it’s taste.”

“Ohhhhhh… well that’s different then.”

So, the fish is good enough because it meets the needs of the patron.

Sometimes, libraries get caught up in worrying about the quality of the information that they lose site of the information itself.

If all you are looking for movies your favorite actor stars in, isn’t Wikipedia be good enough? Do we really need to bother hunting down the latest Encyclopedia of film actors so the patron has the most legitimate resource?

Sometimes correctness is all that is needed of a resource. And sometimes, a quick and simple answer can suffice.

In the terms of the fisher and fishmonger, the fishmonger loses sight of what the customer’s needs are. He becomes more interested in what he feels to be important criteria, without ever knowing what the fish is being used for, and forgets what one of the most basic purposes of his job is; to sell fish to people who want it.

Personally, if I went to a fish market and was hassled about how to fish, where to fish, quality of fish, etc. I would eventually say to myself, “Screw fish, I’m gonna cook some burgers instead…” Thus, leaving the fishmonger to wonder where all his patrons went and why they can’t the public seem to see the value of his store.

So, what can we learn from the fishmonger?

1. Sometimes, it’s okay to just give them the damn fish

2. If they want to know, show them why it’s a good fish

3. Offer to teach them how to scale it, if they need to learn.

*Warning: candy may contain peanuts. To be eligible for reimbursement, entries must include proof of purchase and UPC code. All receipts must be notarized, time stamped and sent to your local archives office for a certificate of authenticity before submission. All candy must be approved by the FDA and meet all noted regulation requirements for Infant Formula, including lactose intolerance. Library Garden is not responsible for the freshness, satisfaction or effects of consumption. Offer void in 48 Mainland states.


January 28, 2008 at 10:13 am 2 comments

Carnival of the Infosciences #88: Call for Submissions

COTI is back in the LG!
Start submitting now and submit often!

It has been well over a year since we last hosted a carnival and apparently I should have put up this call for submissions last Sunday since the carnival is now bi-weeekly. My apologies for missing that detail — I was actually proud to be up early on a Sunday posting this and it turns out I am still late.

Not to worry though as I have complete faith that the info carnies will be out in full-force with lots of submissions and sending us links to great blog posts from last week as well as this week!

This edition will cover all posts from January 21st to February 3rd and submissions will be accepted until 6 pm on February 3rd. I am up in northern Vermont on a ski trip all week so I am sure I will enjoy reading all the submissions by the fireplace after a day on the slopes.

You can send entries to janieh at gmail dot com or you can use the Carnival Submission Form.

Thanks for participating and keeping the Carnival going!

January 27, 2008 at 7:35 am 1 comment

Five Questions Every New Employee Should Ask….

Pete’s latest post on 10 questions to ask every new employee got me to thinking: Wow, I am really glad that none of my employers has ever asked me what I think is just bat-shit crazy because knowing myself, I would probably answer!

After that, I began to think about the questions I have found helpful as a new library employee. I only have five that I think are critical, but the list could just as easily been 20 questions. The main thing is that when you are a new employee, ask questions.

  1. How does the phone work? – Don’t laugh! This is often not shown to new employees (after all it’s ‘just’ the phone). The thing is, there are a lot of tiny things to learn: what is the customary greeting–organization name, department name, employee name, other?; how do you transfer calls?; Do you transfer a call you can answer, when it is about a different department?; Does the phone get answered if a patron is standing in front of you?; How do you retrieve messages? There is nothing worse than realizing you don’t know some these basics when you answer the phone and it is the Director looking for your boss.
  2. If there is an emergency, what do I do? Who do I contact? – Most training is not disaster related. Maybe there is a blurb in manual (which you should read, but I know you might not get to it right away). Find out if you have to dial 9 for an outside line before you dial 911 (see #1, I told you it was more important than it sounds).
    You don’t want to realize you have no idea who to call after the pipe breaks in the bathroom….
  3. When the copier breaks, what do I do? Can I refund the patron’s money? – Look, the copier is going to break. The sooner you learn about taming the beast, the happier your work life will be. Remember, the copier will break—they are evil!
  4. What is the login information for everything you use? After working several afternoons and nights, my first morning shift made me realize I had no idea how to log-into the computers or what passwords to use. It simply was not needed in my normal work week so it was not reviewed. Learn your passwords—nothing slows you down like having to look them up or ask for them after they are needed…
  5. I’m sorry, what was your name again? At the beginning, everyone is really nice and very understanding that you don’t know them. Two months down the road, it just looks rude and unprofessional. If you are lucky, the library will have an updated facebook of employees (Princeton Public Library does and it is the single most innovative and useful thing I have encountered at any job). Most of the time, you will need to find a way to remember people you do not work with regularly. Take advantage of your ‘new’ status and ask now….

There are plenty of questions I did not include—things like where to eat, what is the normal attire, how do breaks work, etc. Lots will be covered as you are trained, and some will simply come from talking with co-workers. Again, now is the time that you are expected to ask questions, so take advantage and do it!

One final note: So far in my short library career, I have learned more from one question I ask my co-workers than any other: ‘Can I help you with that?’

Good luck to all new library employees!

January 24, 2008 at 2:24 pm 2 comments

I am Napster’s B*tch

I feel like such a chump. I feel like I just went back into an unhealthy relationship and, despite my hopes that things will be better this time around, I know it will all be the same.

I went back to Napster. I’m giving them a second chance…

I know, I know what you are going to say to me. You left Napster eight months ago because of the way it treated you! They’re going to treat me the same as before. Napster is still going to put those programs into my computer and mp3 player. It is still going to pseudo-forbid me from using players b/c it likes to be controlling. It’s still going to make me link to it once a week, because Napster always wants to know what I am doing (it is jealous of me using other programs).
But, can’t you see that Napster was good to me price-wise?!

And I’ve tried to break the habit. I’ve used other music programs and, although friendly at first, all they really wanted to do was get deeper into my pockets. I even tried buying individual albums, but that only made me realize how much money I was spending and how much I was still missing out.

I’m sorry, but I had to go back for something that was going to offer me better financial stability. If not for me, for the children… Birthdays are coming up for crying out loud. Do you want me to get them nothing!?

So, okay Napster, you got me back. I hope you are happy. You will see me linking my mp3 player to you and letting watch who I’m listening to, but that doesn’t mean I love you!

January 21, 2008 at 8:29 pm 3 comments

Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee

Kate Sheehan had a wonderful post a week or so ago, Customer Service Mind, Beginner Mind, in which she writes about the value of looking at things with a fresh eye. It reminded me that every time I ever started a new job, I was hyper-aware of all the wacky things about my new organization; the signs that had been taped to the door since 1973: the restrictive (or just plain arbitrary and weird) policies that seemed to have no rhyme nor reason; the lack of basic equipment available for staff (no sliderules or abaci, but close.)

These awarenesses weren’t always negative. Sometimes I was aware of the amazing benefit package that everyone else seemed to take for granted (or even grumble about) ; or an incredibly efficient work flow or communication mechanism — like a wall in the staff room with everyone’s picture (Facebook 1.0), or a Director that was actually available to speak with employees.


But no matter how strong or strange these awarenesses were, they always faded away within the first few weeks on the job. It didn’t take long before my new environment would simply register as “normal.” Seriously, there could have been a chimpanzee in a tuxedo singing the star-spangled banner in the lobby; but if he was there on day 1 and day 2, by day 3, I’d be nodding and saying, “morning George, you sound good today. Nice job on the bow-tie…” In other words, I can’t underestimate the power of our brains to adapt and reset the benchmark for normal experience.

I always thought that those first few weeks as a new employee, when everyone told me everything and more, but no one asked me for MY thoughts or impressions, were a wasted opportunity. So when I became a department manager I made it part of the orientation process to squeeze these observations out of all new employees. I would literally take new employees to lunch and tell them that for the next few weeks, their perceptions were extremely valuable and encourage them to share with me if there was ANYTHING that we did that seemed odd, inefficient, wasteful, or stupid. Or amazing, creative, and blazingly brilliant.

If you can manage to get this data — heck, even one tiny piece of datum — from your new employees (give them a break now and then from reading the 250 page employee manual), you’ll have gotten some very useful information.

So. Submitted for your approval, here are my  [drum-roll please…]


  1. What was your first impression when you walked into the library?
  2. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment inside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  3. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment outside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  4. What are we doing that strikes you as wasteful — of time or money?
  5. What services are you surprised to learn that we are offering, for better or worse?
  6. What services are you surprised to learn that we are NOT offering, for better or worse?
  7. Are there any policies that you don’t understand the rationale for? Are there any policies that strike you as just plain nuts?
  8. What are your impressions of our website?
  9. What was your experience like when you called the library? What are your impressions of our phone system?
  10. What are your impressions of our customer service orientation? Are we customer-focused? What could we do to be more so?


    BONUS QUESTIONS (for the brave ones out there)


  12. How friendly (or unfriendly) did the staff seem when you first walked in the door?
  13. What are we doing that strikes you as straight-up bat sh*t crazy?

If you consistently ask these questions of your new employees, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to recapture the newness of seeing, if only briefly, through borrowed, “beginner mind” eyes.

January 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm 15 comments

Advocate in 2008 – Wait, don’t tune me out!

You might think this doesn’t really apply to you, or that it won’t really affect you, or (most likely) that you do care but you don’t have time for it . . . but the truth is, we all must be advocates for libraries all the time, especially here in NJ, and what better time than 2008?

2008 provides us with the easily rhyme-able number 8 and is a “great” year that provides us with many ways to call for action:

Advocate in ’08!
Be Great in ’08!
Communicate in ’08!
Demonstrate in ’08!

Personally, I really love all of these, but we have to do much more than just come up with cute rhyming mottoes.

I know you have been bombarded with information about contacting Governor Corzine’s office to request that the New Jersey Knowledge Initiative (NJKI) be fully funded. As you probably know, NJKI was funded for $3 million dollars. Then, it lost $1 million of it’s funding. If it isn’t fully funded we will lose it on February 29. BUT PLEASE, stick with me here.

By now, you have all seen this:

Special Message from New Jersey Knowledge Initiative staff:
“Access to RefUSA (and other databases) may end on February 29, 2008 due to a cut in state funding for the NJ Knowledge Initiative. To help keep this resource for NJ, please call Governor Corzine’s office at (609) 292-6000 and ask that the Knowledge Initiative be fully funded for 2008.”

You might not think it really matters if you call. You may think this really isn’t your fight – that this is for the State Library and for NJLA and Pat Tumulty and others to do. Well, this IS all of our fight and making a phone call DOES matter and only takes literally about two minutes.

You pick up your phone and dial the number. Someone answers. You literally say, “I am calling to request that the Knowledge Initiative be fully funded.” The person says okay I’ll put down the message. You say thank you and hang up. THAT IS IT. I’m not kidding. I don’t mean to be condescending, but sometimes it is the simplest things that we don’t do.

For those of you who have placed the call, and I know there are many of you, thank you! I also appreciate everyone who has echoed my testimony that this is a very quick and simple thing to do.

Does it matter if you do this or not? Well, yes. They are counting all the calls. I personally have always believed that one person can make a difference. I can’t promise that your call will be the one to put us over the top, or that this phone campaign will definitely work, but I personally would feel terrible if I didn’t call at least once and we lost the New Jersey Knowledge Initiative.

Do you know what NJKI is?

There is information here. There is also an article from the Daily Targum that is very informative here. Also, SJRLC Connections provides a lot of good information. You can find information from NJLA and the New Jersey State Library.

You might think if you don’t work in or use an academic library, a special library, a scientific or business environment or governmental agency that this doesn’t matter. If you work in a public library, you probably use and know the popularity and value of at least ReferenceUSA. If you work in a school library you may not use the resources of the NJKI. Does this mean you don’t need to call? No, saying that this isn’t a resource you use and so you can ignore these pleas is like the old refrain, “First they came for the Communists, but I wasn’t a Communist so I did nothing.” We all know how that ends. (I know, it’s controversial and possibly incorrect, but….you get my meaning here.)

Now, I am not picking on school libraries – many school library staff have called, and this may sound extreme, but if we do not learn how to, and commit to, doing a better job of speaking up about our value, we literally will not be around anymore.

Even after this NJKI challenge passes – whether we win or lose – there will always be other issues to face. Please think about the ways in which you can become a true advocate for libraries in 2008.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to say Celebrate in ’08 and beyond!

January 6, 2008 at 10:01 pm

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