I was surprised and delighted to win the “Customer Service of the Year” award at the local Mayor’s Oscars on Friday. This is the second time I have won the award, with the 2012 one now having to move up to make space in the downstairs toilet.   After the shock wore off, it got me thinking about what makes, in my eyes good and bad customer service and so that’s what this post is going to be about.  Now, there’s a danger that this whole editorial is going to come across as arrogant blather and if it does then move on and ignore it.  However, it’s what I’ve learnt over 20 years and they work for me so they may work for you.  As you will see, if you disagree with any of them, I would positively welcome your complaints ….

  • Never be too busy.  The main point of my job is to serve the customer.  Yes, I manage a couple of libraries but that person is standing in front of you now and needs help.  Giving him or her inferior help so you can get on with the paperwork is going to make it more likely they don’t come back. Which brings me on to..
  • Think long term. That young parent with children asking for a picture book may take up a long time but she’s going to remember that help and come back.  Her kids will too.  You could be saying no to several people’s life use of a library if you say “no” to helping them as well as you can. I notice this having worked at the same place for twenty years … schoolchildren I remember serving are now bringing in their own kids. They wouldn’t have done if I’d have been nasty to them just once.
  • Treat customers like friends and they become friends which means that pretty soon you’re not working but going to see your friends each day which means the job is fun which means you’re good at it.  But beware of not …
  • Treating everyone the same.  It’s tempting to give more time to the nice ones and ones you know, less to the others … but that person who you don’t like serving is as worthy of help as anyone else.  You can quite often make more of a difference to theirs lives too.  Also, people notice if you treat some people better than others.
  • Find ways of ending conversations.  Always be polite but if someone else is waiting then you need your own plans about how to stop the conversation as nicely as you can.  It may be fun but you’ve got work to do. Chatting 15 minutes to a friend is poor customer service to everyone else.
  • Don’t gossip about customers.  Ideally, don’t talk about them at all, off or on desk.  While often a human failing, gossip can lead to disparaging of customers and a decline in service … and if customers hear you do it, they’ll write you off (after all, if you gossip about x then you’re going to gossip about them too – you wouldn’t want that to happen in shops you went to, would you?).
  • Don’t clump.  Humans are social animals and so it’s natural for library staff to chat to eachother in quieter periods.  However, this means that they look busy to customers and also, have their backs to them.  It also means that anyone walking in will think only one thing … that the library is overstaffed. Not a good idea these days.
  • Outreach breeds publicity breeds usage. I’m an extrovert, can’t help it really.  I do pantomimes, I do public speaking, storytimes, the works. The bigger the audience the better. If you speak to 200 people for five minutes and you make an impression then that is as much as a whole day or two at the desk.  The rules are to be relevant and not to be boring.  That’s it. The rest is window dressing.
  • Self service doesn’t mean the end of customer service.  We’ve had self-service machines for two years but that award was still won.  Smile at users as they walk in – every customer should have some sort of acknowledgement.  Measure them up, see if they need help.  You’ve been doing this job for years: you know the signs. Smile and say hello to those who don’t need help, help those who do. Not a challenge.
  • Go the extra mile.  You don’t know the answer so take down details and ask others until you find the answer.  You don’t have the book so phone up a library that does and get them to put it to one side for them.  Buy in the book if it is not in stock.
  • Check check check.  You know the best way to deal with an enquiry: open questions, closed questions, answer then check to see if the answer is correct.  Then check to see if the user needs anything else.  Do that and you’re winning.
  • Complaints are welcome. I love complaints.  They tell me what we’re seen as doing wrong, for free.  Take them as a gift to improve things.  Thank the complainer.  Look into the reason for the complaint and change practice if necessary.  There’s always room for improvement.  We never have all the answers and we’re never always right.  If we think otherwise then we’re wrong.  Similarly, I deal with hundreds of enquries a month but I still remember the ones from years ago that I did not do well and hopefully have learnt from them.
  • Enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying your job, you’re doing it wrong.  Find a way to enjoy it.  Game it if necessary. People notice if you’re not enjoying things.  They even notice, would you believe it, on the phone … and my personal theory is they notice it in email too.  They’ll certainly notice it on Facebook.
  • Be your own manager. Don’t look for your manager or colleagues for praise or for how best to do things.  If they do help then great but they may be too tied up to notice. Look to yourself for how you do things and take the pride with you. You’re the one that has to live with yourself after all.
  • Be proud.  You’ve got the best job in the world, in a place you fought hard to work in, helping others.  People campaign to support you.  You provide a valuable service that people rely on.  So be proud of it and others will be proud of you.

Some of these of course rely on there being sufficient staff and resources but not all.  Anything which I have missed? Anything you disagree with?  I’d welcome your comments.

Please send any comments, thoughts, news or anything else to me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. I’d love (and enjoy) hearing from you.



“Future generations coming down the line may well have a better time of it, but there are children now who are paying the price in England, not only for the reduction in welfare spending, but in libraries, in leisure facilities, in early intervention, in after-school clubs or holiday clubs. All of those things have been under such severe pressure in local government that many of them have stopped doing them. And that isn’t just an urban issue.” Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England.

  • Manchester United fans boo ‘Moyes Out’ banner flying at Aston Villa game – Guardian. “The Villa fans stopped singing “This is a library” for a few seconds to chant “There’s only one David Moyes” instead.”
  • Maria Miller ‘to have to repay thousands of pounds and apologise over expenses claims’ – Telegraph. “The Culture Secretary abused the Parliamentary expenses system by   over-claiming for her mortgage and then failing to fully co-operate with an   investigation into her conduct, The Telegraph can disclose.  Maria Miller, the Culture secretary, is set to have to repay up to £5,000 and   be censured for her claims – following an official Parliamentary inquiry   which is expected to report as soon as this week. It can also be disclosed that Mrs Miller has recently sold the south London   house at the centre of the scandal for a profit of more than £1million.” [Maria is the minister ultimately responsible for public libraries – Ed.] see also Maria Miller: fit for purpose? – Alan Gibbons.

“Mrs Miller is allowed to preside over the run-down of an important national service and allegedly fiddle her expenses and all she has to do is apologise, and that is only for her housing irregularities. It looks like we are going to wait in vain for her to apologise for the much more serious irregularity of wounding the public library service, possibly fatally.” Alan Gibbons

  • Let’s celebrate our public services – Guardian. ” I called in at one of Bristol’s local libraries, where staff really go out of their way to find the books I want, or reserve them – and all for free. They had just organised a public talk and signing by the acclaimed local writer and recent Costa award winner, Nathan Filer.” … ” I urge everyone not to let this government denigrate the NHS, our education service, our local libraries etc. Instead we must celebrate how much they enhance the quality of our lives and allow us to participate as active and independent members of our communities.”

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  • Edmonton Public Library extends outreach workers project – Metro News (Canada). “Edmonton Public Library officials announced Thursday their outreach workers who work with at-risk individuals accessing the library will extend their service … We’re bigger than our buildings.”
  • Hunt Library Story – Youtube.  It’s an academic library but it contains a load of pointers about how public library design should go.  Collaborative spaces, eighty kinds of chairs, game lab, tech everywhere.
  • Library and Archives Canada to Outsource to OCLC – Bibliocracy (Canada). “, Library and Archives Canada have at last confirmed that are in talks to outsource AMICUS, Canada’s national union library catalogue, to the private sector.”
  • Maximizing The Library Experience: Real Data from Real Libraries – Slideshare (USA).  Guide to how successful libraries, including Anythink are increasing the success of book stock by improving displays, stock etc.
  • Reading on the Wall – Times of Malta (Malta). ” the state of our lending library, in spite of all the work being poured into it by a dedicated group of minders, is poor, in every aspect. The volume of borrowing pretty much reflects this and the lack of reading, which all research indicates to be a fact.” … “they do not have the money, nor do they have the political clout to make the changes that need to be made to turn our libraries into points of socialisation, built around information and entertainment with books of the print and ‘e’ categories at the centre of the operations. Nor do we have an attractive, cosy venue for our central lending library”
  • Tours let people rediscover Detroit Public Library – Detroit News. “Next month’s tour already has 44 people signed up. When you ask those who have attended about the library tours, they tend to use superlatives. “It was amazing,” [It’s a seriously beautiful building – Ed.]


  • Join SCL as our Executive Officer – Society of Chief Librarians. “We are looking for someone who has the confidence and ability to communicate effectively with a range of partners and stakeholders. We need someone who can respond rapidly and accurately to all enquires and has the ability to organise themselves and others against our key priorities. This  is an exciting and challenging time for SCL- our profile and our workload has grown significantly – this is a key role within our organisation and is vital in ensuring our future success. The post is available as a consultancy/self-employed opportunity. The budget available is £25K per annum fixed and the location is flexible. Applicants can propose how they would best like to work within the budget.”

Local news by authority

  • Durham – Council urges Teesdale public to take over services – Teesdale Mercury. “Leisure centres, libraries, play areas, household recycling centres, museums and theatres have all been named as possible services which could be taken over by volunteer groups.” … ““We need to have a system where there’s some sort of harmony and equity across the county. If we encourage volunteers to rush to take on libraries and find elsewhere no one else does and the county council continues to pay for services, then people will quite rightly say what are we paying our council tax for? There needs to be a county-wide strategy.”
  • Sheffield – Council ‘raids’ health budget – Star. “Hundreds of thousands is also being offered from the public health grant in Sheffield to help community groups run libraries.”
  • Solihull – Shirley library is ‘on time and on budget’ – Solihull Observer. “‘On time and on budget’ the new library is scheduled to open this summer when the Parkgate development opens its doors. The relocation of the libary and the sale of the old building to a nursery has split opinion in Shirley.” … “There will be 20 computers compared to the current tally of five. Eighty-six per cent of the old book stock will be moved to the new library – which is exactly the same size as the old library, but with 25 per cent more useable space. There will be a specially gates children’s library with a ‘magic apple tree’ for reading under, space for an interactive vehicle, a fun zone for children and plenty of books. Two community meeting rooms and a quiet study room which is an acoustic room with all external noise shut out for those wanting to read or study in silence. Two brand new toilets ancluding one disabled and baby change facility. Many of the bookshelves will also be moveable to enable better use of the space. * The Solihull Connect Contact Centre will also be housed at the library.”
  • South Gloucestershire – New “bin tax” starts in South Gloucestershire tomorrow – Bristol Post. ” Failure to save enough money would have meant that libraries were next in line. Are the Tories comfortable about closing libraries, because we are not. The Lib Dems have said that if the charge was not introduced, the Government cutbacks would have put libraries at risk of closure.”
  • Swansea – Kids book in at Morriston Library – South Wales Evening Post. “Figures show children’s issues at the community library on Treharne Road have risen by 83 per cent since the building was reopened in early January, after an upgrade.” … “The upgrade at Morriston Library followed similar revamps at several other libraries across the city. Where external funding is available, we’re undertaking as much work of this type as possible to ensure our libraries meet the needs of 21st century visitors.”
  • Waltham Forest – Group feels left out after library refurb – Yellow Advertiser. “The News from Nowhere Club is angry that Leyton Library, which has just had a £1million make over, does not have anywhere for local groups to put their leaflets.  Ros Kane, from the club, explained: “I went to the newly renovated library to leave some of our leaflets and was shocked to learn from the staff that there are no longer any racks for community leaflets and just a small rack for the council’s own leaflets. “Libraries are meant to be information points, but this seems to have been forgotten in this refurbishment and I would like to know why the council has made this omission”
  • Wolverhampton – 51 library jobs are being axed at Wolverhampton libraries – Express and Star. “Some compulsory redundancies will be ‘inevitable’, council chiefs have confirmed. It comes just days ahead of opening times at 13 libraries in the city being slashed from 656 hours per week to 421 hours. The total number of staff working in the city’s library service will drop from 138 to 87 under the changes.” … ” “A total of 34 members of staff have either opted for voluntary redundancy or have chosen compulsory redundancy because it offered more favourable terms.” … “James Macfarlane, spokesman for the Save Wolverhampton Libraries campaign, said: “In reducing the opening hours, it will affect the most basic and finest community service we have.” He added the introduction of self-service machines showed a ‘total ignorance’ of what librarians do.”