Taking the temperature of your library

On a day-to-day basis as a director how do you take the temperature of a public library and figure out when there are problems?  This is a question I ask myself regularly as I walk through the library, trying to get a sense of what’s up.  Here are several quick, easy “tools” that I use to understand how things are going:
1.  I listen to my intuition and I trust it.  If things feel good, they generally are good.  If I’m feeling tense and nervous – there is probably a reason for that.  It is worth my time to look around my surroundings and see what my sub-conscious has figured out that my brain hasn’t caught up with yet.

2.  I smile at people and say hello.  If most of them smile back, then things are going well.  If something is wrong, frequently the individual that I greeted will see that as an opportunity to tell me about a problem they are encountering.  That’s a good thing.  You can’t fix something if you don’t know that it is broken.

3.  I ask the librarians on service desks how things are going.  They are perfect barometers for understanding when the environment is deteriorating.  By asking for their input sometimes I can help address a small issue before it gets to be a big problem.

4.  I take my telephone or iPad and sit in a public space for a half an hour and do some online work.  By using the library as a patron I find out pretty quickly what glitches we may be encountering in our “digital library” and that helps me understand where updates in equipment, databases or support might be needed. 

5.  I listen.  I’m not listening for anything particular but rather for a tone.  A busy, well-run library has a buzz to it that feels good.  When things start going wrong you can often hear the problem, even before you are aware of what is happening.  I try to be sensitive to that happy buzz and it’s evil twin the angry roar, going by the theory that the sooner I find a problem, the sooner I can (hopefully) figure it out!

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