Chapter 12: What are we good at, and what is our future? Action planning – Customer Care


What are we good at, and what is our future? Action planning

Hide not your talents – they for use were made

What’s a sundial in the shade?

(Benjamin Franklin)

The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. (Irving Berlin)

Many in the younger generations would prefer to surf the internet from the comfort of their home or expend their disposable income on the luxury of new entertainment items from hip stores rather than setting foot in a library … have no idea … that public libraries might be trying to foster a more welcoming image. (C. A. Gardner)


The aims of this chapter are as follows:

 to celebrate success and take pride in achievements;

 to actively share information about team successes;

 to make a commitment to improving customer service skills.

To assist with planning, Table 12.1 presents a suggested session plan.

Table 12.1

What are we good at? Action planning

*A, activity (participants); F/C, flipchart; H/O, handout; P/I, Post-it notes; T, talk (facilitator)


In Chapter 9, on confidence and assertiveness, we asked if you were able to accept compliments graciously. How often do you stop and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done? When we accomplish something worthwhile, we deserve recognition.

Even if we don’t always get positive feedback from others, we can and should give it to ourselves. It is easier to complain than to praise, and sometimes we can find it difficult to recognise and accept our successes. Many cultures tend to discourage people from ‘boasting’ about achievements. This chapter is giving you an opportunity to do just that.

To acknowledge a good job well done, it is important to consider what you are doing well and what you have accomplished. To make appreciation truly meaningful, it is worth celebrating success. We plod away each and every day, and celebrating helps us to keep going on the continuous quality journey. Consider the analogy of filling up your car with petrol in celebration of the miles covered and in preparation for the miles yet to be tackled. In a way, celebrating past successes is preparatory for the future.

When researching for an earlier book, we were struck by how many library users, in this case researchers, valued:

the atmosphere, a sanctuary from the telephone and office-sharing colleagues where one may browse and discover materials by serendipity. The ‘wow’ factor of a large research library as an ‘icon’, something to be proud of, and an institutional asset needs to be capitalised upon in any marketing strategy. (Gannon-Leary et al., 2008: 6)

Imagine if a visitor from another organisation asked you what the most interesting things about your service were, and what you were most proud of. How would you answer? Would all members of staff give the same answer? What are the salient talking points about your service? Is there a bookmark, brochure or webpage that highlights these?

Hilyard (2007) describes how, in the staff room of her public library, she would on a fortnightly basis pose a new question/statement for staff to respond to using Post-it® notes. These could include such questions as ‘What (positive) comments do you hear customers making about our branch?’ and such statements as ‘Pat your co-workers on the back – tell us what you’ve seen them doing well’. This is a nice way to encourage all staff to celebrate successes.

Aim 1: To celebrate success and take pride in achievements

You are welcome to us!

In this activity, participants are asked to consider the production of a ‘welcome pack’ for new members of their service team/section.

The activity involves listing what they would include to help orient and integrate a new recruit into the team. Remember that you want to give a positive picture, so consider what team/section successes you would want to share with the recruit.

The following list was produced by a team doing this activity:

 background to/history of the section;

 case studies/success stories;

 hierarchy diagrams with (smiling) photographs;

 how we got where we are;

 introduction to the team members and their roles and skills;

 map/plan of section;

 meet our customers (including user feedback);

 our unique selling point (e.g. special rare book collection);

 pack to have team/section logo;

 vision/mission statement;

 where we would like to be – positioning paper.

Your participants may come up with a different or even better list, but what is important is that they consider the inclusion of customer information in the pack. After all, most of this manual has been discussing customers as they are an integral part of your team. They are your raison d’être and should be involved up front.

What motivates you?

Give participants a few minutes to work individually and identify their top three motivators at work. Depending on the group dynamics and how the session is working, facilitators may wish to ask individual participants to share one of their motivators with the group. Don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable about this – it may be preferable to seek volunteers rather than going round the group.

Some typical motivators include:

 bonus or award;

 customer gratitude (letters/testimonials);

 feeling valued by the organisation;

 good appraisal or peer review;

 pay day;

 praise from a colleague;

 pride in a job well done;

 promotion opportunities;

 recognition by line manager;

 sense of achievement;

 working in a dynamic team.

As part of this activity, facilitators can ask participants to consider what they have done in the past week that they are especially good at. They could also consider a positive attribute or characteristic that they believe they possess, which contributes positively to their customer service role. They don’t have to share these with the group but may find them useful in subsequent activities.

Aim 2: To actively share information about team successes

What are we good at?

Split the participants into teams/sections for this activity if possible. Give them a flipchart and ask them to be as positive as possible in listing what their section/team is good at.

At the end of the exercise, consider what you could do to recognise the good things that have been identified and to reward performance. This could be something as simple as buying cream cakes for the team or going out for a celebratory meal. It doesn’t have to involve food but, at this stage, the facilitators might want to hand round some fun-size candy bars or similar – have some fruit for those on special diets.

Aim 3: To make a commitment to improving customer service skills

Action planning

We are moving towards the end of the training and would like facilitator(s) and participants to think over the material covered and to reflect on:

 what they feel they have learned about dealing with customers;

 what have they learned about themselves and their team/section;

 how they might apply what they have learned.

To make a commitment to improving their customer service skills, we suggest that that participants design an action plan of specific targets to help them accomplish this overall goal.

Action planning involves:

 identifying and defining as clearly as possible what is happening now – the present state;

 developing a clear vision of the future and where we would like to be – our desired state;

 designing appropriate strategies to manage the transition between the two – a change of state.

If any step is missed out, the action plan will be weakened.

All the steps needs to be approached with equal priority and with personal strengths – both inspiring vision and an accurate grasp of current reality are required.

Individual action plans should show the present state (what I do well now) and the desired state (what I will do better). Goals should be numbered in the order of priority.

My support network

Support is vital to determine how well we are doing and to take plans forward. Support is also important for our health. It helps in stress reduction and in coping with transitions. It is important for our growth, and for building our confidence and competence.

Each of us has our own network of people from whom we receive, and to whom we give, support. These people may be mentors, colleagues, friends or family. They help by actively listening to us and by empathising/understanding. They show us respect and regard us in a positive light. They give us emotional support as well as practical assistance.

Give the participants some time for self-assessment using the following prompts:

 Take stock of the people in your support network.

 Assess the types of support they give you.

 Assess your satisfaction level (for each person).

 Identify changes/additions to your support network.

 Consider how you might make changes yourself and develop your own networking/support skills.

Having considered these points, participants can pursue any of a number of approaches. They may feel they have a support network within the training group. In this case, they may wish to agree to contact a partner within the group in two month’s time to check on their progress as regards their action plans. Alternatively, they may prefer to mail their action plans to one of the facilitators and then get in touch two months later to see how much they have achieved. It depends on the group dynamics.

Exemplar: A vision of the future at Aarhus Public Library, Denmark

Since the early 1990s, Aarhus Public Library has been developing its digital services. The more work it did, the more it recognised the links between this digital work and the more general work of enhancing the library as a space with a variety of IT-based support. This led the library to formulate a vision of the ‘intelligent’ library space.

This vision, encompassing such initiatives as the info column, info galleria, digital floor and radio-frequency ID book phones, represented the desire to create a physical and experiential learning environment in which the user could navigate interactively to digital content. It was also driven by a strong belief in the need to be proactive in relation to the fast movement of ‘pervasive and ubiquitous’ computing – the fact that computer-based intelligence is increasingly embedded in the artefacts surrounding us in our daily life.

Below, we describe some of the initiatives realised as part of Aarhus Public Library’s vision of intelligent physical space:

 Website: The original, static webpages have been replaced with content management systems. The library’s new dynamic and interactive website gives access to a variety of services, including personalised profile, e-mail notifications on holds and overdue books, web payment of fees and fines, notification before loans expire, subscribed personalised subject list on newly purchased media, business information, surveys and polls, virtual tours and maps, RSS feeds and SMS services.

 OPAC: Online public access catalogues have developed significantly since the turn of the century. Web-service technology has made it possible to embed elements from other web-based data sources in the catalogue, e.g. images of copyright-cleared book front-pages, systems based on collaborative filtering, and statistical data on loan patterns have all been developed to exploit the ‘wisdom of crowds’ in creating recommendation facilities similar to the well-known recommendations on commercial websites such as Amazon. Features for customising and personalising the OPAC are in the pipeline, whereby the user can track their own loans, holds and possible fines for overdue material.

 Mobile portals: This represents a relatively new service, where the library gives access to a range of services for internet-enabled mobile phones. The services range from information on opening hours and the status of borrowed materials, fees and fines, to news on programmes. There are also SMS services providing reading suggestions and recommendations, and facilities to place orders and holds on desired books. The growth of broadband-connected mobile devices in the market has provided the necessary infrastructure, and the potential for mobile access to library services can hardly be overestimated. There is little doubt that new services pushing content will emerge shortly, such as samples, citations and quotations from new literature, young authors’ poetry, and Q&A services.

 Digital content: Today, digital content includes e-texts, e-books, e-zines, music, photos, images, film and audio-books that are directly available through download or down-loan services. Download allows the user permanent use of the e-source, while down-loan provides the user with time-limited access to digital media managed by through digital rights management systems. An increasing number of audio-books in MP3 format are available through the library OPAC. When performing a search, the user gets a result showing books in the library, e-books for immediate download, and audio books in MP3 format for down-loan. This free collaborative web-based search and ordering facility ( makes it possible for a user anywhere in Denmark to have physical media, books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, delivered from any library in the country to a library in his or her neighbourhood.

 Net libraries: At present, there are 19 net libraries in operation in Denmark, including:

– Biblioteksvagten ( – an online question and answering service operated by librarians from 71 public and research libraries.

– Libraries Net Music ( – not by definition a net library, but rather a library service that allows registered users access to down-loan MP3 files from a selection of more than a million music tracks. After a loan period of one or seven days, the music piece will erase itself, unless the user chooses to buy it.

– A children’s portal has undergone total reconstruction and was relaunched in late 2009.

– Ask Olivia ( – a question and answer service for children, which presents various possibilities for interaction including games and reading recommendations.

– Litteratursiden ( – a portal promoting contemporary Danish and foreign fiction. The main editor is based in Aarhus Public Library, but the consortium consists of public libraries from 79 municipalities. All participating libraries perform some sort of production work for the site. The portal includes an e-zine with e-mail notification for more than 3,000 subscribers; book clubs; advice; recommendations; articles; a database on contemporary Danish authors including video and audio clips, biographies and bibliographies; opportunity for placing holds and requisitions through; and facilities for the participating libraries to use web service technologies to automatically embed content, such as recommendations, in their own OPACs. The site has partnered with a Danish national public service television broadcasting company and has 3.6 million individual visits annually – a very high usage rate relative to the population of Denmark.

Aarhus Public Library worked in close cooperation with the Alexandra Institute and ISIS Kathrinebjerg, the research and development departments of Aarhus University, as well as with private partners. The i-floor was also implemented at some public sector schools in Aarhus, labelled as the ‘knowledge well’.

Feedback on the scheme has been very positive, and has directly influenced the way the library thinks about development. The library actively engages its customers, and the phrase ‘user-driven innovation’ is very much the reality. The library has published an accessible user guide, which clearly describes user involvement for libraries (see

The info-galleria are now being rolled out in more than 20 municipal public libraries in Denmark, as well as in other local institutions in Aarhus and municipal citizens’ services and sport and leisure public services. The key to success is the software that allows both centralised and decentralised editing of content, and the organisations behind the creation of content, where many libraries work together and divide the tasks.

Further development is planned, targeted towards completing the new main library ‘urban media space’ by 2014 (see

For further information on this initiative, see Sidsel Bech-Petersen’s article, ‘The mash-up library’ ( or the video about the ideas and rationale (

Aarhus Public Library is also developing is the idea of the ‘library as a universe’. It has directly engaged young customers as ‘mindspotters’, exploiting their networks and competences to build totally new services and experiences both inside and outside the library. For more on this development project, see the video ( and the report (

Exemplar: The 24-hour media vending machine at Newcastle City Library

At a time when libraries both locally and nationally are experiencing a significant increase in customers, Newcastle City Council’s forward-thinking approach aims to capitalise on this renewed interest by transforming the way library services are delivered.

Opened to the public on 7 June 2009, Newcastle City Library occupies a new, six-floor building that includes a 185-seat performance space, meeting rooms and crèche facilities. This state-of-the-art library operates on a fully self-service basis, enabling staff to devote more time to providing more focused help and advice to customers.

The library has a 24-hour vending machine that opens onto the street and holds up to 400 books, CDs and DVDs. Items can also be returned on a 24-hour basis, regardless of opening times.

The vending machine looks rather like a large cash machine and provides access to books, audio-books, and DVDs on a 24/7 basis. Customers use a touch-screen to choose from a variety of available media. Access is via a card-reader, which first verifies user details and then supplies the requested items. Return transactions are just as easy. Moreover, the returned item is then immediately available for reissue. The machine is directly linked to the main library computer system and provides real-time updates on both customer and transaction details. An additional advantage to the 24/7 availability is that it has the potential to draw in new customers who may not be able to access library services during normal opening hours.

Exemplar: ImaģinOn – a joint venture between Charlotte Public Library and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, NC

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Charlotte Public Library and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte were running out of space. The directors of the two institutions recognised that they shared not only a problem, but also a mission: bringing stories to life. As such, they agreed that to meet the growing needs of both organisations, it would make sense to consider creating a new, shared facility. This new facility would not just be a combined library/theatre – they imagined a new type of facility, and an original approach to education, learning and the arts. Thus, in 1997, the seed of ‘ImaginOn’ was sown, its mission being to ‘bring stories to life through extraordinary experiences that challenge, inspire, and excite young minds’.

The new facility opened in October 2005, with the Story Lab very much the core of this imaginative project. Children are drawn to its huge Story Jar (meant to represent the millions of stories in the world), and to the old records, umbrellas and shoes dangling from the mobile hanging above.

Children visiting the Story Lab quickly settle into individual workstations (called Tale Spinners) or the pod-like arrangements of computers (called Team Machines) scattered throughout the room. Even the computers themselves are designed to enhance the ‘magical’ effect for their young users. No standard, grey or buff machines here, but purples and yellows, with fantastic spiralling turrets and pipes leading off to unknown places.

The students use software that guides them through the story-writing process, and challenges them to use their imagination in exciting flights of fancy. When they are finished, they can ‘add’ their stories to the Story Jar or, if they have a library card, they can revise them later at home or school.

The children who have chosen the Team Machine work with software that helps them create a theatrical scene. As they invent the storyline, design the set and fashion the costumes, they interact excitedly. It can be a noisy process.

From the Story Lab, a ramp curves upward toward the upper level, leading to Tech Central – an installation of 40 computers for ‘tweens’. Staffed by a five-member technology education team, Tech Central provides software for learning and recreation, as well as internet access for those with parental permission. What is unique about Tech Central is its educational mission – the staff are not there simply to monitor children, but also to teach them. An adjacent computer classroom with 15 workstations provides an opportunity for children and teens to learn not just library research and database searching, but a whole variety of computer-based programs and tools appropriate to their age and experience. Opportunities for hands-on learning are an essential part of ImaginOn’s design. There are four other classrooms – to be used for rehearsals or workshops with budding playwrights, as well as studios for dance and art classes. An artist-in-residence would fit perfectly into ImaginOn’s vision.

The ramp finally ends at the Teen Loft, a nearly 4,000-square-foot space with its own distinct look and feel. Oversized booths provide space for teens to work together – or just to meet friends and to talk. Huge easy chairs beg for readers to curl up in them. A media area, all metal and glass, feels more like an upmarket coffee bar.

Studio-I, adjacent to the Loft, is one of ImaginOn’s most ambitious innovations. Using blue-screen technology, this 1,225-square-foot studio gives teens the opportunity to produce live-action and animated videos, using the latest techniques, such as stop-motion, clay and two-dimensional animation. Studio-I also includes three workstations, and with the help of the ed-tech team, fledgling video artists can learn how to shoot, edit and mix sound. While Studio-I complements ImaginOn’s storytelling mission, it is radical for a library to so actively embrace the artistically creative process – as opposed to just collection – in a medium that isn’t just text. Studio-I finally gives teens, huge consumers of video content, an opportunity to create and express through video.

The manager of the Teen Loft sums up the ethos of this imaginative and highly successful project: ‘traditional libraries reach traditional users. Non-traditional libraries reach everybody’.

Feedback has been very positive, and the facility is highly valued as a community resource. Strong links have been made with local schools, and ImaginOn is heavily booked for summer camps in particular.

Future plans include further development of community programmes and partnerships. Classes and workshops will be offered, focused on both literary and performing arts. One area in which there is particular interest is in the potential for adapting children’s literature for theatrical performance.

For further information, see Kenney (2005).

Further reading

Gannon-Leary, P., Bent, M., Webb, J. A destination or a place of last resort: The research library of the future, its users and its librarians. Library and Information Research. 2008; 32(10):3–14.

Gardner, C.A. The importance of customer service. Virginia Libraries. 2005; 51(4):2–4.

Hilyard, N.B. Making changes and staying happy. Public Libraries. 2007; 46(3):17–24.

Kenney, B. Imagine this. School Library Journal. 2005; 51(12):52–55.