March 16, 2018

Developing a Service Philosophy | The User Experience

Aaron SchmidtIt takes hard work to create a library that provides good user experience. As convenient as it would be, building an exemplary organization doesn’t happen by waving a wand. Instead, libraries must optimize all of their touch points, develop sane policies, design relevant services, and empower staff to provide members with top-notch ­function.

Of these requisites, library staff might impact the user experience the most. After all, library workers are often the vehicle though which library service is delivered. And while an unusable website might be frustrating, a lousy customer service inter­action has the potential to do some serious damage to the library–member relationship. Humans are social creatures, and we all react emotionally to face-to-face encounters. What’s more, we’ve all had memorable customer service experiences—both good and bad—and have felt how that affects us.

So while there is much more to creating a good user experience than providing solid customer service, it clearly is an important factor.

The right hires

Hiring strategically is a long-term tactic, while hiring people who genuinely care about providing good customer service is crucial because it isn’t an easy quality to instill in others. It may be impossible to teach—some people have strong empathetic abilities and intuitively know how their actions impact someone’s perception. There’s something tangibly great about interacting with these folks.

This isn’t to say that a staff member’s customer service skills can’t evolve and improve. Still, improvement doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, library workers must be empowered to deliver good customer service. Staff will provide better service when they share a set of well-­established guiding principles. When staff are capable of putting these principles into action and they are free to do so, good customer service will flourish. Think of these principles as a service philosophy. This service philosophy should be a statement that explains a library’s approach to service, and it should be valuable for both library staff and library members.

One example of an outstanding service philosophy is the one established by the Portland, OR, grocery store New Seasons Market. It calls itself “The Friendliest Store in Town” and has codified its service philosophy in an 11-point plan called “The Fine Print” (see image at left).

It illustrates that New Seasons Market is committed to being friendly and that the company understands that the details need to be in place to make this happen. These guidelines tell customers what they can expect and liberate employees to deliver great ­experiences.

Creating a service philosophy

A good service philosophy is one that resonates with both your staff and your members. Here are a few things to keep in mind when crafting a service philosophy for your library.

Be inclusive

Ensure that there are a great many members of the frontline staff on the small team that leads this effort. Also be sure to include an administrator who is well versed in the library’s overall strategy. Throughout the process, solicit feedback from employees. This will give you some good ideas and help with buy-in later on.

Make it aspirational

Remember, a service philosophy is meant to describe how you want your library to be, so aim high. There is room for improvement in every organization; you just need to stretch yourselves to do better. After you’ve initiated the service philosophy, take time to assess where the organization is in relation to the aspirational goals. Design a plan to make improvements.

Keep it brief

People are busy and very few people—staff or members—will take the time to read a page full of text. As New Seasons Market did, consider writing statements with short explanations. Another great example of an easily digestible service philosophy is Ritz-Carlton’s “Gold Standards” (

Make it user-focused

Crafting a service philosophy is making a promise to your users. Even though your service philosophy will certainly impact the behavior of library workers, focus on communicating the benefits to your customers.

Aaron Schmidt ( is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx ( He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at

This article was published in Library Journal's November 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Aaron Schmidt About Aaron Schmidt

Aaron Schmidt ( is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx ( He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at



  1. As a “user” I am not having a good “experience” reading this article. “There is room for improvement in every organization; you just need to stretch yourselves to do better. ” Seriously?? The author obviously isn’t familiar with front line realities here; most people, if told to “stretch to do better” would snap like a rubber band. Oh, and “Design a plan to make improvements”?? You mean Mr. Carnegie isn’t going to build us a new library?