February 16, 2018

Karen Rossi | Movers & Shakers 2006



Thinking like a customer comes naturally to Karen Rossi, who’s been a library user much longer than she’s been a librarian. Without an emotional investment in traditional ways of delivering library service, she found it easy to understand that ‘libraries are complex and confusing to customers.’ When that perception of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) was confirmed by focus groups, Director Barbara Mistick asked Rossi to ‘implement a new way of providing user-centered public services’ in the building’s renovated first floor.

‘The best information architecture is completely intuitive and predictable to the user,’ says Rossi, who introduced innovations like electronic signs above each information desk, an open layout with browsing displays of popular genres, a coffee shop near the entrance, and an expanded teen space. New signs throughout the building replaced library jargon with the customer’s language, like ‘Ask a Librarian’ and ‘Customer Service.’ Signs labeled ‘Don’t Miss This!’ and ‘Did You Know?’ alert users to upcoming library events and little-known parts of the collection [see ‘Power Users,’ LJ 12/05].

Consultants who shadowed CLP users had identified ‘break points’ in the building layout where they got lost or gave up. Rossi’s team placed information kiosks and maps at those points, and librarians now monitor them, ready to offer service to befuddled-looking people. These changes have already led to increased circulation and customer satisfaction.

The quest to improve customers’ experience of the library is not a one-time event but a process of continual change, Rossi believes. ‘The first floor is a learning laboratory, an experiment in real time,’ she says.

Rossi spent the summer of 2004 leading an intensive training and planning program, where she encouraged staff members to contribute ideas, take risks, and work in teams. The system she put in place not only empowers staff members to make swift decisions but also makes it easy and inexpensive for them to update services, displays, and signage. Rossi thinks of this inbuilt capacity for rapid adaptation as ‘future-proofing’ the library, and she takes this message on the road, showing librarians how they can do likewise.

Rossi’s favorite quote is, ‘Don’t ask, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ Instead, ask, ‘How will I feel if I don’t even try?” Odds are she won’t ever find out.



Current Position Manager, First Floor Services, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Degrees MLIS, University of Pittsburgh, 2000
Presentations www.carnegielibrary.org/presentations/rossi
Fun fact Former Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader