New Seasons: Lessons Learned From the Retail World



This is not another post about how you need to design your library and library services after the bookstore world.  We are not bookstores.  Heck, most of our stuff is free!  But, we can learn from the retail sector.

If you are ever in Portland, go into New Seasons Market (grocery) wander around, ask for help, buy something.  I guarantee you that your shopping experience will be unlike most other grocery shopping experiences that you’ve had.  I think their tag line is something like “the friendliest store” and it really is true.  And it’s not the fake kind of friendly where they place underpaid, under insured worker at the front door to greet you.  These workers actually seems happy.  They are always willing to help you even if it is “outside” their area.  A deli worker will gladly take you to frozen food and point out all of their favorite dairy free ice cream flavors.  When you checkout, the cashiers are pleasant and chatty and it is not forced.  I think that they are not only treated well by the company; but, they are allowed to be themselves and it shows.  One of my coworkers at Powells went to New Seasons, filled up his cart, checked out and then realized he forgot his wallet at home.  Guess what the checker did.  She didn’t call management to ask for permission.  She didn’t make him run home to get his wallet.  She didn’t role her eyes and call someone to void his sale.  She told him to go home, with his groceries and to call in with the transaction number and his credit card.  Can you believe it?  They trust their customers and it pays off.  For every person that might stiff them in this scenario they create thousands of loyal, rabid fans.

One thing I’ve really decided on is my place in libraries.  It’s all about the patron and by that I don’t mean the patron is always right because there are numerous instances when they are not right.  What I mean is that I’m continually asking myself the question: is this providing better service?  How can I make this easier for patrons?  What are patrons most interested in? Do we have to say no?  It doesn’t really matter if your specialty is kids, technology, programming, reference.  We are all there to provide the best service possible.  Some of us, in addition to serving the public, serve our coworkers.

I just happen to work in a library with an outstanding IT department.  These are two of the most friendly, patient and helpful guys you could want on your team.  I have seen them sit with patrons and reconfigure their laptop so they could use our wifi.  They have come out to reference a million times to troubleshoot printing problems we should probably be able to fix ourselves.  If they kvetch about us, they do it privately and are always, always helpful and patient.  I’ve never, not once heard either one of them utter the words: that’s not my job.

I don’t live in Portland anymore and I truly miss the people that I befriended there.  And I miss New Seasons.  I miss the most pleasant grocery shopping experience I have ever encountered.  New Seasons is a place where you are never afraid to ask a question, always feel welcome approaching a worker and where 99.99999% of the time it is going to be a pleasant, positive experience.  I have never had a negative experience at New Seasons, though I did once (and only once) observe a worker get slightly grouchy with a customer; but, we all have off days.

I have heard that New Seasons puts all of their employees through an extensive customer service training program and they empower their frontline worker to make decisions so they are not calling managers (and making customers wait) to perform routine tasks such as voids, returns, etc.  These are excellent lessons for us to take back to our libraries.  Does your library have a statement or philosophy about service?  Are you training and being trained?  Are you empowered to make decisions?

Sometimes, I think I want to live in Portland just to be near the most extraordinary consumer staples: New Seasons and Powells (though, Powells leaves a lot to be desired in the customer service department).

Feed Your Mind: Books I Have Loved


My original post about Summer reading lists basically consisted of a list of books I’d like to read in the next few months.  Today I want to share a list of some of the books I have loved.  This list is not a list of all of the books I have loved or even a list of my most favorite books.  It is just a list of books I have truly enjoyed.

Aquamarine/ Carol Anshaw: one of the most perfectly written stories.  After an olympic swimmer hesitates and comes in second, the reader is given 3 possible lives she could have had.

Soloist/ Mark Salzman.  I really liked the quiet subtlety of this story about a violinist, once a  child prodigy and now an average adult violin teacher, whose life is transformed when he is called for jury duty.

Hairstyles of the Damned/ Joe Meno.  This is the first Joe Meno book I read although I enjoyed his column in the now defunct zine, Punk Planet.  Hairstyles captures some of the most painful and embarrassing moments of adolescence.  Not a huge plot line; but, enough to keep you interested and so compelling in it’s Seinfeldesque descriptions of a young, awkward teen boy coming of age, that I couldn’t put it down.

Welcome to My Planet Where English is Sometimes Spoken/ Shannon Olson.  I loved, loved this novel, which is frequently and mistakenly just lumped with the whole chick lit genre.  Welcome to My Planet’s narrator is a hilariously neurotic 30 something still living with her parents and obsessing over her future.  What sets Olson’s novel apart from the thousands of other novels about 30 something women is Olson’s gift for storytelling.  Her character development is excellent and the interplay between mother and daughter is not just an opportunity for a joke; but, reveals something deeper.  One of my favorite novels to recommend to people looking for something funny.

Plain Janes/ Cecil Castellucci.  I loved this YA graphic novel so much I tried to convince everyone to read it.  It’s an extremely quick read; but, it’s such a little treasure.  Basically, a group of non conformist girls goes on a guerilla art spree in their town.  Funny and sweet and thought provoking.

Love & Rockets/ Hernandez Brothers.  This is not a book; but, a long running comic book series that has been collected a few different times in various ways.  If you think graphic novels are not legitimate sources of literature, check out Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets.

Lovingkindness/ Sharon Salzberg.  I go back to this book over and over.  It is so simple and beautifully written.  It is one of my favorite books by a Buddhist teacher.  The first couple of nights after my accident, Kate and my friend Grace, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning pushing my pain medicine button and reading aloud from this book.  It is probably my most treasured, spiritual book.

Everyday Zen/ Charlotte Joko Beck.  This book turned me into a Buddhist. Ha, ha.  No, really.

If I had to choose a book that is a fun page turner, guaranteed to make you laugh without challenging you too much intellectually; but still offers a little bit of literary meat, I’d suggest you read:

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz.  Sort of a mystery; but, with enough other plot lines going on that you almost forget there is something to be solved.  The Spellmans are a family of private detectives who are constantly invading each other’s privacy while simultaneously running a detective agency.  This book is clever and when I turned the last page I was immensly happy that it was the first book of a series, of which there are now 3 titles published.

I May Be Lucky; but, I Still Occasionally Feel Sorry For Myself


July 7th.  It is a weird day for me.   Four years ago today I was riding my scooter down West 7th St. in Saint Paul, MN when I collided with a car that turned into my lane.  The driver was on his cell phone and he didn’t see me and he turned right into me.   I had just visited my friends at the library and a friend and her son in Lowertown.  I was headed home to make a lovely dinner for my partner.   My life so completely changed in that moment that I still grieve for my previous life while at the same time anticipating what my new life will bring.

I’ve talked to numerous other people who’ve been in traumatic accidents and many of them divide their lives into before and after.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the whole notion of before and after.

We assumed I’d get back on my feet enough to return to libraries; but, I did have to assess and really make sure that the library field was worth fighting for and if I didn’t return to libraries what then? Part of my recovery was spent in Portland, OR.  My first job after the accident was at Powells Books.  I worked at the smaller outpost on Hawthorne and loved it.  I loved the people.  I loved the books.  I loved the neighborhood.  When I got the job, I thought: I’m not spending more than a year here.  I knew it wouldn’t take very long for me to know how I was doing being back at work and I also knew that I couldn’t get too comfortable at Powells.  I spent exactly one year to the day there.

It is easy to get complacent.  It is easy to just let life go along propelled by inertia.  It is easy to get stuck in our ways.  Sometimes change comes in small ways: cutbacks at work bring more responsibility or we get a new boss who has different ideas.  Sometimes change comes in big ways like my accident.  It is really how we weather these changes that makes all the difference.  Change brings opportunity, even when it’s painful.  My accident brought to me the opportunity to learn things about myself.  It reminded me that I’m in control of what my life looks like and how I’m going to move through the world.  We make decisions all of the time.  Sometimes the decision is to do nothing.  If I  do nothing, I want to make sure it is a conscious choice.  It’s fascinating in so many ways.  In some specific ways the accident has taken things from me whether by physical limitation or by choice (no more scooter riding); but, in other ways it has opened up a whole new future.  I don’t quite get to do a do-over in life; but, something near to it.

People always ask the same questions; so, I’ll answer them for you: yes, I was wearing a helmet.  I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.  I broke a bunch of stuff and had a head injury.  The friend I was visiting prior to the accident would sometimes say, what if we stayed at the playground longer? what if you left sooner?  I can’t play those games.  I’d say I was damn lucky.  I crashed about 4 blocks from a level one trauma center.  The man who was in the car behind the guy who hit me was an off duty EMT.  He saved my life.  I probably would have bled to death in the few moments it took the ambulance to get there.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself.  Sometimes, I still deal with the emotional aspects of trauma and I get weepy.  Sometimes, when I can’t do something because of a physical limitation or I have a day filled with chronic pain,  I get pissed.  I try to allow myself the moment to feel sad or mad and then redirect it to feeling lucky to have another shot at living in this incredible world.

When we get bogged down in negative thinking, it is our choice to stay there and suffer or ask the questions that will give us a chance to reframe the experience.

This is different post for me.  One that is entrenched in the personal; but, really it is about navigating change and that is something we encounter in all parts of our life.  Sometimes change is within our control and sometimes not; but, how we deal with change is always in our control.

I’ve struggled with writing this one.  In fact, I’ve rewritten it seven times.  I don’t know how to tie all up in a nice neat package and I guess that’s okay.  And because now I’m one of those people:  wear your helmet and when you drive, just drive.  Please refrain from talking and texting.  You might just save a life.