OSU Libraries Communications Department

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High Quality, Hospitable Service

Carol Diedrichs

Last fall I attended a symposium on service at the New York Public Library. I was initially interested in the symposium because it featured Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy (more on that in another entry down the road). I read extensively in the library literature but I also try to read outside our field for concepts and ideas which should inform how we approach our work. Underhill was great but one of the other speakers at the symposium, Danny Meyer (very successful owner of a series of restaurants in New York), was even more compelling. Danny spoke about his philosophy of hospitality. Attendees also received a signed copy of his book – Setting the Table – which I just finished reading.

So what does all this have to do with libraries? Well, it has me thinking a great deal about service and how we deliver high quality, hospitable service to our students, faculty, staff and community. Here’s an excerpt that I think is applicable as well to library faculty and staff regardless of the unit in which we work – after all, we all have customers or patrons – some are simply internal rather than external.

“Hospitality starts with the genuine enjoyment of doing something well for the purpose of bringing pleasure to other people. Whether that’s an attitude, a behavior, or an innate trait, it should become a primary motivation for coming to work every day. We strive to treat our guests the way we would want to be treated. The golden rule remains as fresh and meaningful as ever; and beyond how well it serves people in their lives, it may also be the most potent business strategy ever devised. In business, as in life, you get what you give. We try to apply a humanitarian viewpoint to every business challenge, to find creative, gracious solutions and reassure our guests that we are solidly on their side.” (p. 244)

Meyer goes on to talk about agents versus gatekeepers, a concept that I’ve also heard articulated as “how to say yes.” An agent makes things happen for people; a gatekeeper sets up barriers to keep people out.

Across our libraries and library departments, we have employees who are the first point of contact with our students, faculty, staff, and fellow library colleagues. We have the opportunity to improve our engagement with those constituencies one transaction at a time. Ask yourself after every transaction – did I present myself as an agent or a gatekeeper? “The true test of a win-win dialogue with an agent is that … [the patron] leaves the call convinced that we tried.”

Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table is a great read. It includes very interesting anecdotes about the restaurant business particularly in New York City.

(Danny Meyer. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. New York : HarperCollinsPublishers, ©2006)

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