For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
March 27, 1996 - Gold stars, Service, and Public Surveys
A friend of mine runs her own business from home. A couple of months ago, she got into a slump. She still had plenty of business, but she just didn't think she was doing her best work.
Most of us get into these kinds of troughs every now and then. But my friend did something about it that was surprisingly effective -- and surprisingly simple.
First, she put a big calendar right in front of her desk -- the wall-mounted kind, with big, clear numbers. Every time she raised her eyes, there was the calendar. At the end of each day, she made a decision. If she'd gotten a lot done, she stuck a gold star on the day. If she hadn't, she didn't.
Before very long, whenever she was about to get up and sharpen her pencils for the fifth time, she found herself asking, "Wonder if I'll give myself a gold star today?" Then she set down the pencils and did something more productive.
Before long, she was putting up gold stars almost every day.
Clever, isn't it? It doesn't take somebody with a whip at your back to make you work smarter. It doesn't take a $500 a day consultant. It just takes something simple, like your own opinion of yourself.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, once wrote, "If you train your conscience, it blesses you as it hurts you."
It happens that one of the things the Douglas Public Library District will be doing this year is a community survey. The survey is a part of our long range planning process: as we set new directions for the library, we want to touch base with the people who will pay for the service.
And speaking of service, that's my essential concern as a library director. I am, after all, a public servant, as are all library employees. As we move into our next planning period, how do we make sure that we are all doing our best work? How do we maintain the highest possible levels of service?
The more I think about this, the more I think the best way is to try to find something as straightforward as what my friend did.
Suppose that for a couple of weeks out of every year I put some kind of quick tally sheet next to each staff workstation. Whenever a patron came up and asked for something, and the transaction concluded, the staff member had to put a tally in one of two columns: "great service," or "not great." Nobody would see this tally but the employee. It wouldn't be collected.
But if you believe in the innate honesty and intelligence of your staff - and I do - this might be just about all that's needed to cause a real jump in service quality. Part of that has to do with staff members holding themselves more accountable, like my friend.
But the other part has to do with discovering problems. Maybe the staff person COULDN'T deliver good service because the library didn't carry something people kept asking for.
Here's another twist on the same idea. Suppose that we set up a little table by the exits of the library. On the table would be a bowl of poker chips, and two cans. One would be labeled, "I got good service;" the other, "I wish!" Every time a patron walked out, they could record the quality of their experience with the library. Now THAT could give a branch manager some interesting data.
Service is important. Public institutions should be responsive. It could be that some simple ideas like these - inexpensive, unobtrusive, based on the notion that staff and patrons both have a good idea of what good service means - are all that it would take to earn enough gold stars for everyone.