June 18, 2018

Stepping Up on Usability | Insights and Outcomes

Monroe County Library System (MCLS) and Rochester Public Library (RPL), NY, director Patricia Uttaro credits LJ’s Lead the Change event with turning multiple small projects that had been happening across the district into a more cohesive structure capable of affecting broader change.

Working to bring the event to Western New York in spring 2013 “helped to consolidate the small things we’d been doing among our staff. We pulled those programs together and have continued to build on them since,” she said. The leadership training that her staff got at the event has meant big changes and new programs in Uttaro’s own backyard.

Teaming up

One of the new programs that came out of Lead the Change was the system’s new usability team, composed of a dozen attendees from across the system of 21 branches Uttaro manages. “These are midlevel staff who were tired of seeing policies and procedures in our libraries that were getting in the way of good customer service.” Uttaro told LJ. “Now, they’re traveling to branches around the system, analyzing procedures, and advising staffers on how to improve their interactions with patrons.”

The team, which has adopted the slogan of “Think Yes,” is hoping to bring that attitude to questions at every branch in the system, from assisting patrons in looking for books to guiding them through the use of electronic gadgets.

The usability team is taking cues from traditional retailers in an effort to improve the patron experience at MCLS and Rochester libraries. “They are doing patron observation and mystery shopper exercises and have identified a customer service training model that can be used system[wide],” Uttaro said of the usability team’s activities in the months since it took shape. The team has recently started shooting videos that will be used to train librarians in all 21 branches to provide better customer service.

All of that is in line with Uttaro’s goal of shifting from collections to community. “We’re looking for ways to promote the library as a community center and a destination, rather than just a place full of books,” Uttaro said.

Team members’ supervisors have helped them work their new duties into their existing positions; in other words, the team helps libraries across the system improve their practices without any new outlay of library funds. The team doesn’t just offer advice on improving service to patrons, though. The work members are doing changed the tenor of the system in general and “brought about a transformation in the working relationship between thinking about problems and solutions,” said Uttaro. “They’re not leaving things to directors anymore. They’re doing it on their own.”

Stepping up

Other Lead the Change attendees stepped into new roles around and outside of MCLS and RPL: presenting at meetings of the New York Library Association, working to create scheme that would let patrons sign up for and renew library cards online, participating on the Caldecott Committee, and taking the lead in bringing health-care navigators into libraries so that patrons understand their health-care options under the Affordable Care Act, to name a few. “It’s a lot of fun to watch the people who went through Lead the Change spread their wings, take chances, and make real changes within our libraries,” said ­Uttaro.

Spreading the change

The benefit has spread beyond those who attended the event, too. A new proactive attitude among rank-and-file employees in Rochester and Monroe County has been contagious, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by supervisors, said Uttaro. “One of the biggest changes is that there is much more willingness from administrators to listen to entry-level staff and let them take off with new ideas,” she said.

Beyond the immediate benefit, the event planted seeds for the future. ­Uttaro expects to reap long-term gains to the system that she manages from the staff training and improved communication set in motion by Lead the Change. “Across the country, I think there’s concern about a lack of viable candidates to replace upper-level administration,” Uttaro told LJ, and her system is no different. “We wanted to do something that would help us groom the next generation of leaders.”

This is the first installment of a new monthly column that draws on the experience of librarians who attend LJ’s Lead the Change professional development events to explore what changes they implemented in their libraries as a result.

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This article was published in Library Journal's February 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.