Libraries Kick Ass!!


When I was a kid, in the summer, my sister and I would go to the library once a week and come home with stacks of books.  My stack was eclectic: novels, almanacs, poetry, animal books, art books, whatever struck me that week.  My sister’s stack generally consisted of books on fish, Jacque Cousteau, sharks, ocean life and sometimes Ripley’s Believe It or Not type books.  We would drag a blanket out to the driveway and spread it out so half was in the shade ( for me) and half was in the sun (for my sister) and we would spend hours out there reading.

I grew up in a small suburban town and knew almost every book in there that remotely held my interest.  By the time I was 13, I was working my way through the adult fiction section, pulling out each book to see if it was something I wanted to read.  No one ever questioned my selections, not my librarian, not my parents.  I was free to read what I chose.  At some point in my teens, I stumbled upon Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden.  It was shelved in the adult fiction section; but, was about teen girls, so I brought it home and read it.  If you have never read Annie or just don’t know about it, I suspect that it was one of, if not the first YA novel dealing with a lesbian relationship that did not end badly or sadly.

That book was astounding to me.  I knew what being gay meant.  We all suspected my sister was gay.  But, to have evidence that this might exist outside of my family and be okay was a comfort I could only guess that I needed.  The library was my oasis from a group of friends that were more interested in drugs and having sex.  It was a place I felt comfortable and confindent in.  It was a place where I was free to be curious.

In the mid nineties, I was working at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library and I got the opportunity to attend my first library conference, PLA in Portland.  At one of the workshops, I sat down and turned to the woman next to me to introduce myself.  She looked a bit familiar but I couldn’t place her until I looked down at her name tag.  It was my childhood librarian from Denville, NJ.  I couldn’t believe it.  I excitedly introduced myself and gushed about how important the library was to me as a child and how fondly I remembered her.  She didn’t seem fazed, though perhaps I made her feel a bit old!  I felt so grateful that I had the opportunity to thank her.  I didn’t even realize I wanted to thank her until I sat down next to her as a colleague 20 years later.

That little library on Diamond Spring Road no longer exists.  They built a bigger one down the street; but, now that I’m a librarian myself, I frequently think about my experiences there and realize that I was given two gifts:  my parents shared their love of reading with us and encouraged our curiosity and the library was the safe haven where I got to explore other worlds, where I began to dream about my future and where I read a book that planted a seed in me that I would need later when I began accepting that I am gay.

You have an opportunity to help a library continue to make that sort of impact on its residents.  The Lousville Free Public Library in Lousville, Kentucky suffered greatly during a recent flood.  They lost materials and equipment that their patrons need and count on (estimated at 5 million dollars!!!!)  Please donate to the Lousville Free Public Library Foundation at this link. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated by the Lousville Free Public Library and by the residents of Lousville, KY.

To read more blog posts in this, Libraries Kick Ass!!, fundraising blogathon, visit this link.

Blame-a-palooza: Why a Culture of Blame Will Kill Innovation and Scare Off Your Customers

My parents enjoying a much deserved vacation.

My parents enjoying a much deserved vacation. Relevancy of this image at end of post!

Stuff happens.  Customers leave angry or disappointed.  Grant applications are denied.  Events are poorly attended.   Cataloging gets backlogged.  Books wait to be shelved.  Printers get jammed.  Computers break down.  Mistakes are made both by accident and by human failure.  How do we deal with these moments?

In many ways, assigning blame is inevitable.  It’s how much time and energy is spent blaming that is the key to whether you learn something valuable from failure or you miss an opportunity to become better at what you do.

If we are spending time talking about WHO is to blame, we aren’t asking ourselves the important questions like:

Why did this happen?

Was there a breakdown in communication?  Are we using the wrong tools?  Do we need to retrain staff, shift staff, cross train staff?  There a million questions to be asking depending on the problem/error; but, if we are more concerned with placing blame, we won’t be asking the questions we need to ask.

Whenever we talk about blame, we must also talk about responsibility.  It would be great if people took responsibility for their errors and we got down to the business of finding solutions to the problem.  We could spend way too much time discussing the ramifications of dealing with folks who don’t take responsibility for their actions; but, the fact is whether they own up or not, the problem is still there waiting to be solved while we go off on tangents of laying blame and kvetching about who should take responsibility.

Ideally, we should be creating an atmosphere in our workplaces, where staff feel safe to make mistakes.  This type of atmosphere encourages people to fess up when they’ve erred and the brainstorming for solutions can begin immediately.  It also encourages creativity and willingness to share and try ideas.  The best libraries are filled with staff that can think outside the box and are generous with a flow of ideas even when they know the investment is not if every idea is used but  that they are contributing to a place where ideas are shared and batted around and none are considered crazy or stupid.

When in a situation where a problem is being discussed, whether you are regular staff or a member of management, when the discussion veers towards finding blame and away from solution finding, you can take steps to get the discussion back on track.

A simply stated, “I think it’s more important to figure out how to fix this than figure our whose fault it is.”  Or, “I know we are all busy.  I think our time would be better spent finding a solution to our problem.”

If you find yourself obsessing over who’s to blame, I suggest you think of the following:

  1. Focus on the Customer:  Ask yourself how best to serve your customer/patron.  Ask yourself if you are contributing to the problem or helping solve the problem.  Remind yourself that the ultimate goal is to be providing the best service.  If you are doing something that takes away from that, you are not helping.
  2. My sister and I had a “play room” that was actually a closet under the stairs.  At one point, we had created a giant mess. When my mother found us, both sitting on the floor, stuff piled all around us, she said:  I don’t care who did it; just clean it up.  She took that attitude with most things and I think I’m a better person because of it.  Feel free to use it as a workplace mantra:  I don’t care who did it; let’s just clean it up.

** The above picture is of my parents on a beach in Delaware.  I have learned much from them.  I feel lucky to have landed in their family.  There has not been a moment in my life when I did not feel loved and now that I’m a grownup I have come to appreciate my mother’s little wisdoms running through my head.  “I don’t care who did it” was just one of many valuable life lessons I learned from them.

Let’s Not Get Crazy: Controlling Anger


art:  Tommy Pariah

We all get angry.  For some folks, it takes more to get them angry than others.  For some it’s like filling a bucket and when the bucket is full, it spills over.  The one thing that seems to be true no matter the origin of the anger is that when it spills, it frequently gets people wet who had no part in filling up the bucket.  This is why it’s important to bale out the bucket yourself, periodically.  It’s our responsibility to manage our lives both at home and work in a way that allows us to interact with others in a kind and civilized manner.

I’ve been dealing with a bit of anger myself in the last week, all related to things happening in my nonwork life.  This morning on my way to work I got irritated by the other drivers who were driving too slow, clogging up the lanes, taking unnecessary risk, whatever…they were just pissing me off.

I happened to have a copy of The Dhammapada in my backpack, which I pulled out and looked at when I got to my desk.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought.

There are other translations, one of which includes the following: with our thoughts we make the world. It is a lovely reminder that anger, irritation, impatience are all born of thought and I can rethink my way to a place that will help me give others I encounter in the world the kind of interaction that that is beneficial to us both.

I really want to make a positive impact in the world and I don’t mean doing things that get me on the cover of magazines.  I mean the small everyday things that touch individual people, if only briefly.  The ripple effect of that could be awesome.  I remember in high school driver’s ed class we watched a movie about good driving habits and they show a person pulling out of their driveway and almost hitting another car in the street.  It shows the other driver going off angrily and the domino effect of that anger.  Then they rewind and show the same encounter with a more polite interaction and the ripple effect of that.  I still remember that film and it has been years.

I know what helps me snap out of a bad mood or an angry rut:  exercise, reading Buddhist teachings, having positive social interactions with others and sometimes forced cheerfulness will snap me out of it…before I realize it the cheerfulness is not being forced.

What are the things you need to do to avoid the moods that prevent you from interacting positively with coworkers and customers?

Life in a Sitcom

schneider2I bought a condo, exactly one week ago.  It’s always a little tricky dealing with mortgage brokers, lawyers, insurance agents, real estate agents.  Buying a home is really a logistical obstacle course of multiple hoops to jump through.  I’m not the greatest hoop jumper; but, I managed to pull it off and on time.

The fascinating thing about home buying, in relation to this blog, is the sheer amount of people you deal with who are providing you service at varying degrees of adequacy.  My team did okay.  There were a few times where I had to prod someone; but, heck, some of them had to prod me.

But, and there is always a but, at the closing, the buyers did not hand over keys because they had bought the unit at a foreclosure and claim that they never got any keys other than the unit key.  The customer service problems began to mount from this moment on.  I just bought a condo but did not have any keys to get into the building.  The realtor said she’d talk to the management company.  Two days passed and I had to access the building by calling ahead and having the realtor (who interestingly enough, lives in the building) or the super buzz me in.  This is a supreme hassle, especially since my parents came down to help me paint and get the condo ready to move in and they were actually staying there overnight.  It pretty much pissed me off and after two days and no key, I ran into our point person at the management company.  I politely introduced myself and told him that I needed the keys.  This man began an epic customer service fail that has yet to end.  Here is how he has handled my request.

  • He abruptly told me, “I don’t have your keys” and to get the keys from my landlord.  The realtor jumped in and said, “She owns.”  She explained the whole foreclosure fiasco and how I basically received nothing at the closing.
  • He sighed and looked completely irritated.
  • He told me I had to pay 50 dollars for the missing keys.  I told him that no where in my contract did it say I would need to pay for keys.  He said, “You have to leave a key deposit.”
  • He finally told me that he would give the super the keys that day.  He wrote down my name and phone number to put me into the security system so I could buzz people in. This took 3 1/2 days.
  • I asked about parking and he said he’d put me on the waiting list which he has yet to do.
  • I was still talking when he turned away to make a phone call unrelated to our conversation.
  • He did not make the keys like he said he would.  So, I left a voice mail reminding him I needed the keys.
  • My father left a note on his office door.
  • I ran into him the next day and said, “Hey, I need the keys.”  He acted like he had NO idea what I was talking about.  I went through the whole story and he finally said, yeah…give me 20 minutes.
  • 2 hours later, my father went to his office and demanded the keys.  The keys were given to my dad.

That would be the end of it except I still do not have keys for the storage unit or my mailbox and believe me, I do not look forward to hounding this guy just so I can get my mail.  And he misspelled my name on the directory even though I spelled it for him and watched him write it down.

This is the exact opposite of how this whole customer service interaction should have been handled.  I plan on being active at condo board meetings and my first question just might be, “Why are we still using this management company when they basically suck at customer service?”

Where does such poor service come from?  Boredom?  He was on his cell phone every time I encountered him.  Perhaps he doesn’t see his role as customer service. He definitely has the attitude that he is some sort of gatekeeper and we should be grateful that he does anything for us.  He was so bad at giving me customer service that it was almost absurd and definitely fodder for a painful sitcom situation.

The good news is that the super is one of the nicest, coolest guys I’ve encountered.  I ran into him outside one day and asked him how his day was going and he told me that he was having a good day and he was about to take “one of the old ladies” to the beauty parlor to get her hair done.  Now that is my kind of sitcom.  If you’re old enough to remember One Day At a Time, you’ll know what I mean.

Is Kindness Trending?


At Powells last year, I was responsible for keeping the Business section shelved and orderly.  One book caught my eye:  Kindness Revolution by Edward Horrell.  I loved this book.  At some point, I’ll write a post just about that book.  For now, I’ll summarize it very, very briefly by saying that it is a book about cultivating a culture of kindness in the workplace from the TOP down.

At the library where I work right now, I’m responsible for collection development in the business and self help areas.  I’ve recently noticed a flurry of titles about kindness and compassion that were not spiritual in nature.  There are plenty of books that stem from a religious or spiritual base that discuss kindness and compassion; but, fewer outside the Dewey 200s.

Here’s a few that I’ve noticed in the last 6 months.

  • Art of Being Kind by Stefan Einhorn
  • Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer
  • Age of Empathy by F. B. Waal
  • Cost of Bad Behavior by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath
  • Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy by Dev Patnaik
  • Capitalizing on Kindness: Why 21st Century Professionals Need to be Nice by Kristin Tillquist
  • On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor
  • Compassionate Samurai by Brian Klemmer
  • Love Leadership by John Hope Bryant

I have not read any of these books though, On Kindness will be added to my Fall reading list.  In Booklist, the reviewer June Sawyers writes,

Phillips and Taylor argue that in today’s fast-paced, anything-to-get-ahead culture, kindness “has become our forbidden pleasure.” Kindly behavior is perceived as both dangerous and suspicious, nothing less than empty sentiment and simplistic moralizing.

I have often felt that even using the word, kind, plants a seed of suspicion in people which I have always found odd.  It’s almost as if the topic of kindness and compassion has become off limits, distasteful or inappropriate.  I’m anxious to read this exploration of kindness, that includes a historical perspective on attitudes towards kindness.

All of these books have me thinking: is kindness trending up?  What is the sudden uptick in interest, especially in the business sector?  Has the recession brought with it a distaste for greed? Is it more that in a recession business leaders are willing to try anything, even being a little nicer?  In an earlier post, I reference an article in the NYT that talks about how desperate restaurant owners in NYC have decided to try and be decent to retain customers.

Or maybe it’s our president.  He does seem more compassionate than some of our last few presidents.  During the campaign, his “calmness” was frequently discussed in the media.  The recent fiasco over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates had an interesting conclusion…well…at least the media hype died down after the three men met and had a conversation.  What slipped by many media outlets or was deemed unimportant by them (perhaps more interested in what brand beer they were drinking), was the fact that Gates and the police officer had already spoken on the phone a couple of times before they met in person, both men showing some level of maturity and willingness to listen (one would hope).

Maybe the recession is moving us towards some values our culture hasn’t really highlighted in awhile: frugality, humbleness, a desire to hunker down and be more self sufficient.  I’ve seen quite a few books, interviews, news pieces pop up about preserving, canning, etc.  Let’s hunker down with loved ones and let the storm pass.

I’m not sure why the idea of kindness seems to be a topic of discussion lately; but, I’m all for it.  We need more kindness in the world.   Aldous Huxley has been credited with saying that after years of searching for happiness he discovered the best answer was “to be a little kinder.”

Perhaps we can all make that discovery too.