Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Library service excellence is like making good espresso

Last week I enjoyed a three hour ‘espresso class’ – a wonderful birthday gift from my wife. I took our little espresso machine to a local coffee shop where the staff led us through the complexities of coffee making. My caffeine-fuelled brain was buzzing that night, and as I was thinking about the many steps of making a good espresso coffee, I somehow drew a correlation with library service excellence. In the cold light of morning, I think the link may be a bit of a stretch, but like a dog with a favourite tennis ball, I’ll run with the idea until it wears out!

A cup of coffee has many variables; type of coffee bean, origin of the coffee (altitude where it is grown, local soil characteristics etc), type of roast and blend of coffee beans in a roast, type and cleanliness of espresso machine, coffee grind, how the ‘basket’ is packed with coffee, pressure of hot water forcing the extraction, type of pump pressurising the water, length of extraction, texture and mix of the milk, plus a few more things I’ve probably forgotten. Get all of these things right, and you have an excellent cup of coffee. To earn a good reputation and loyal following, a barista has to get this mix right cup after cup, day after day. And that’s just the coffee. What about the café design and ambience, the cost of the coffee and the attitude of the staff. The morning after my espresso class, Timothy Greig tweeted this: hopes baristi realize their potential to change our world one coffee at a time: a short chat with Liz at Peoples' turned my :( upside down!

So how many elements are there to good service in a library – or any service/retail place? Location, design and layout, ambience, range and availability of stock, programs and events, wait times in queues, staff attitude, problem resolution, up-selling/value-adding etc. Like a good barista, library staff have the challenge of providing all of these elements, for every customer, every day, week-after-week. When all the elements are broken down like that, it almost sounds exhausting.

In helping to reach, then consistently keep high service levels, library staff face are a number of challenges.
  • We can teach customer service skills, but can we teach people how to genuinely love serving people? This has implications for recruitment. Do we recruit for skills and experience or attitude?
  • How do we keep experienced staff motivated and prevent staleness and boredom? Ground coffee is good for three weeks (I hope library staff last a bit longer than that!) but after a few years on a busy circulation desk, how ‘fresh’ is the customer service going to be? Perhaps there are opportunities for multi-tasking, job rotation, and self-governing teams.
  • A good espresso coffee is a blend of coffee varieties, each type chosen for its unique characteristics. Can library staff keep ‘folding in’ the strengths of other professions like IT, teaching, public relations, marketing, retail, performance and museums into the library field to help perfect the ‘blend’ of service that a library offers?

Some other points...

  • A barista constantly tweaks the coffee grind to suit the ambient temperature/humidity, the espresso machine and customer taste. How often do we tweak our collection development activities to match customer needs? Daily, weekly?
  • It’s important to keep an espresso machine clean and functioning. It is of course critical to stay on top of the cleaning and maintenance of our library facilities (physical branches and virtual spaces).

I’m sure there are a whole heap more correlations to be made. Each time I enjoy a truly good cup of coffee, I won’t help but reflect on the mix of things that make a library service consistently great.


Jo said...

Hi there, stumbled across you blog this morning and loved this posting!! Very good correlations between library services and coffee. I loved the quote about changing the world one coffee at a time. Have you tried Zentveld's coffee beans? There is a link on my blog - we only ever use their beans - coffee snob I know:)

Am looking forward to reading your future posts

Warren Cheetham said...

Hi Jo - yes I have tried Zentvelds - very nice! I also like Skybury (Mareeba, FNQ), BUN coffee and Nat's (both from Byron Bay area).