ALA Midwinter Conference Postscripts: It’s a Girl @ Denver Public Library

Denver’s Central Library this morning delivered the ultimate example of great customer service as the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference was nearing its conclusion: a newborn girl.
A security officer, assisting a woman who had gone into labor, put his coat on the floor so the mother would have a soft place just inside the east entrance to the building, and other staff members held up blankets to provide the woman with as much privacy as was possible. They remained in position while paramedics delivered the child, Denver Public Library Training and Development Coordinator Sandra Smith confirmed this afternoon. The mother and child reportedly are doing fine; no additional information was available out of deference to the mother and the latest Denver Public Library customer; and there are, without doubt, going to be plenty of online stories about the library staff’s quick reaction to something they probably did not study in library school.
It was already clear, even before I learned why Library Public Information Officer M. Celeste Jackson was being interviewed by a local news camera crew in the lobby of the building early this afternoon, that this is a library system with a commitment to innovation and customer service even in difficult financial times.
There is a colorful easy-to-read map available in the building’s lobby for those who want to take a self-guided tour. Staff in the first-floor children’s, reference, and popular materials (fiction, videos, DVDs, books on tape, and CDs) areas are well positioned to answer questions. And clean, easy to read signage provides quick guidance to how the library’s resources are spread throughout the building.
It doesn’t take long to spot a wonderfully retro solution to the perennial problem of not having enough staff to provide immediate face-to-face assistance. Where Ohio University Libraries has been experimenting with the creatively high tech idea of using Skype so in-building users can talk to staff without having to find a reference desk, Denver Public has, under signs with the words “Ask A Librarian/Pregunte A Un Bibliotecario,” hung phones on walls throughout the building.
Picking up one of these hotlines, I learned from a member of library staff that the service was instituted when staffing cutbacks prevented the library from providing the level of service they wanted to deliver. The system, he added, is generally well used and there have only been a few crank calls from those picking up the phones.
It’s also obvious that the Library somehow avoids a problem which plagues many large urban library systems: library users who routinely have to be forcibly removed from buildings for disruptive behavior. There were few signs of this problem at the Central Library today, and a few frequent library members and guests confirmed for me that they are feel safe and comfortable using the facility.
Smith credits it to the well trained Security staff and the policy of encouraging anyone displaying disruptive behavior to review and sign the Denver Public Behavioral Contract so they can remain on the premises: “With each individual, it spells out a plan that emphasizes the message that DPL will work to encourage and facilitate the customer’s return to the library after the specific concerns have been addressed. These contracts are supported by city attorney and local courts,” she noted.
It is clear, from talking with the library’s training and development coordinator, that there is an institution-wide commitment to customer service and the prerequisite training; all staff are currently in the process of attending in-house “Crucial Conversations” sessions, and a well developed curriculum of workshops on a variety of topics is at the heart of the system’s commitment to developing and nurturing a community of learners.
N.B.—For a California-based example of innovations in customer service, please visit the Infopeople website page for Cheryl Gould’s “Fully Engaged Customer Service,” being offered both in open-registration and contract versions.