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!