Thursday, June 30, 2011

Customer Service 101

Bad customer service: isn't it a bummer? I had an unfortunate experience at a RAWTHER FANCY boutique the other day, and it made me think about the service we give the library.

My husband gave me a lovely wallet for my birthday last week-- something I've really been wanting, as I carried around my previous wallet for over a decade. Unfortunately, there was a small, tiny, hardly noticeable imperfection in the new one, so I thought I'd see about exchanging it.

Here's what happened:
  • The first thing the sales associate said to me was a very curt, "Do you have a receipt??" Which, yes, I did. It's not a wildly inappropriate thing to ask, of course. But it might have been nice to hear a somewhat concerned, "Oh, what seems to be the matter with the item?" before the demand for a receipt. I'm just saying.

  • They didn't have any more other items in style and color I had selected, so the sales associates showed me the floor models, which weren't in great condition either. (Honestly, who wants a floor model at full price?) I politely declined, and... that was it. They just kind of stared at me and didn't offer any further solutions. No offer to call other stores in the area, no offer to order the item online and have it sent to me, nada. They could see I was disappointed, but were clearly waiting for me to leave.
What bothered me the most about this whole interaction wasn't that they didn't have another wallet to exchange for me-- it was their utter lack of concern . Their attitude was basically, "Oh well! Your problem doesn't matter to us!" Which translates into, "YOU don't matter to us!" Which, for me, translates into, "And WHY would I ever go there again?"

But the outcome of this whole thing was that I went away feeling PRETTY GREAT about the excellent service my colleagues and I provide every day at the library. At no charge to our patrons! We will go to the ends of the earth to find the information a patron needs, and if we truly can't help them, we act with empathy and humanity.

So, just in case any RAWTHER FANCY boutique sales associates are reading, let's recap some good customer service strategies:
  • Make eye contact and greet the customer/patron before they greet you. Ask how you can help them. Don't make them start the conversation.

  • It goes a long way to acknowledge that the person's need is important to them. If those sales associates had just acknowledged the fact that this was my birthday present and, as such, the item was important to me, I would have walked away from the situation a whole lot happier.

  • Go the extra mile. At my library, we always offer to check the other libraries in the area for items that we don't own, even though we're not connected to those libraries. We don't have to check with the other libraries-- technically, we'd still be doing our jobs if we just said we didn't have the item and left it at that. But why not take the extra step? Our patrons really appreciate it.

  • There's a fine art to telling someone there's nothing you can do for them. Show a caring attitude. (Ahem, even if you don't really care-- it won't kill you!) I always want a patron to walk away feeling like, "Well, even though I didn't get what I wanted, that nice librarian really cared about my question, and she tried to help me." I don't want them walking away thinking, "Isn't there something else she could have done?"

  • We all learn this in library school, but it bears repeating: always wrap up the transaction with an offer to continue helping. "Is there anything else I can find for you?" Half the time, people are shy about approaching the reference desk and asking for help in the first place; make it easier on them by letting them know they're not limited to just one question.
What are your worst customer service pet peeves? What makes you vow to never patronize a particular establishment ever again? Conversely, what are some of your favorite customer service strategies? What keeps your patrons coming back?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Displacement, by Thalia Chaltas

Chaltas, Thalia. Displacement. 364 p. Viking Childrens Books. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780670011995.

Novels in verse aren't always my cup of tea. In fact, to be completely honest, more often than not, I'll pass them by. A lot of the time
I just don't understand
The prose needs to be
Broken up
On different lines
Like this.

...oooh, actually, now that I did that? It was kind of fun!

Anyway, novels in verse may not exactly be my thing, but at the same time, I don't harbor an automatic prejudice against them. I can be swayed by one that's well done, and I found myself really getting into Displacement. It's a quick yet thought-provoking read about a girl who's grieving the loss of her younger sister. She decides to get away from her life and her family for a while by escaping to an isolated town in the desert.

Chaltas uses evocative language to set the scene and illuminate the main character's struggle with grief and her journey to healing. Chaltas' writing works especially well to bring the setting to life-- the desert is a strong presence in the book, almost a character in itself. Word choices are deliberate and powerful, and the reader can really sense why this author writes in poetry rather than prose.

Sometimes, too, Chaltas' language is rather... shall I say blunt? Like, you know how in some books and TV shows, characters never have to go to the bathroom? Well, um, this book doesn't have that issue. Your mileage may vary as to whether that's a positive or a negative!

I think this book will have an appreciative audience in teens because of its themes of self-discovery and healing, so I'll be buying it for my library's collection.

Displacement was published earlier this month; ARC for review snagged at ALA Midwinter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

How to Run a Tween Book Group, Part 2

This post is the second in my series on running a tween book group. If you missed part 1, check it out!

What do tweens want from a book group?

They want activities. I thought games or crafts might be too young, too kid-like, but I quickly discovered that this age group still enjoys a fun activity paired with a good book group discussion. Sometimes the activity can kick off the discussion, or if the discussion isn’t picking up steam, the activity can essentially take its place.

They want food. No brainer, right? I should note that I learned from a wise colleague never to offer food that can be used as projectile weapons, such as peanut M&Ms, in case an impromptu food fight breaks out. Smart!

They want book group to NOT be like school. Publishers often supply well-intentioned book discussion questions for their books, but I'm telling you right now, most of those questions are too formal, too intimidating for this age group in a non-school setting. The publisher's questions might be perfect for the classroom- I'm certainly not saying the tweens can't handle more involved questions!- but for a library book group, which is extremely extracurricular, I like to keep it light and inviting. So what do the tweens want to talk about?

They want to talk about the book's cover.
It's a seemingly simple topic that can be a great jumping-off point for discussing their expectations of the book based on the cover and the jacket copy. Here are a few questions along these lines...
  • When you first saw this book, what did you think it was going to be like?
  • After reading it, was it pretty much what you expected, or did it turn out to be something else entirely?
  • Why do you think the cover is designed this way, with this image?
  • If you were redesigning this book’s cover, what would you put on it?
They want to discuss genre. Try questions like...
  • What kind of book would you say this is?
  • Does it fall strictly into one genre, or does it cross over between more than one?
  • If you were recommending this book to a friend, what would you tell them to get them to read it?
  • Would this book appeal to someone who doesn't like this genre? Why or why not?
They want to relate the book to their own experiences. Ask them...
  • Has anything like [main character’s experience] ever happened to you?
  • What would you do if…?
  • Have you ever felt like…?
  • Did you ever know someone who...?
Next time: I'll wrap up this series on tween book groups with details of some activities to pair with book group discussions.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: Hourglass, by Myra McEntire

McEntire, Myra. Hourglass. 397 p. Egmont USA. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9781606841440.

This is definitely one of my top picks this summer. I couldn't put it down! Emerson is plagued by visions of people from the past, and although she's tried every cure, nobody can solve her problem, and she's convinced that she's gone off the deep end. Her concerned older brother calls in yet another specialist to confront the issue, but this handsome young man who works for a mysterious organization called Hourglass isn't telling her she's crazy... he's telling her the visions are real.

McEntire expertly builds on this intriguing premise, and the brisk pace and tight plotting makes for one utterly addictive read, with plenty of chapter-end cliffhangers that make you want to drop everything and keep turning the pages. I was THIS CLOSE to calling a babysitter so I could just keep reading.

I adore a good time-travel story, and Hourglass is definitely a good time-travel story. The science of the time travel- well, technically, time slips- is thoroughly researched and well explained throughout. Plus, it has awesome references to other good time-travel stories. I almost squealed aloud with glee when the author referenced Somewhere in Time, Dr. Who, and Hermione's time-turner ALL IN ONE PARAGRAPH.

There's also lot to like about this book's cast of characters. Emerson is a smart, sassy protagonist with one-liners that made me grin. She doesn't hesitate to stand up for herself, even to her love interest. She calls him out when she thinks he's not telling her the whole story, which is seriously awesome to behold. Emerson's wonderfully loyal best friend (with a secret of her own) is another highlight of the book for me, and of course the love interest, Michael, is deliciously angsty, honorable, and tortured.

The story is nicely complete in the end- it could very nearly stand alone, but McEntire tantalizes the reader with a few deliberately unanswered questions, so we know we can look forward to a sequel. You know I'll be marking my calendar and clearing my schedule for it!

Hourglass was released earlier this week, so rush out to your nearest indie bookseller and pick up a copy today. Advance reader copy for review was graciously lent by my Authors are ROCKSTARS! co-host, Michelle, who received it from the publisher. Our June podcast features an awesome interview with Myra McEntire that you won't want to miss, and we're giving away a copy of Hourglass, so check it out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to Run a Tween Book Group, Part 1

The days are growing long and school is almost out... how to keep those young minds engaged in reading over the next few months? I've had great success running a book group for tweens as part of a library Summer Reading Program.

Why summer? Running a book group during the summer gives it a low pressure, low commitment appeal for the participants. It's a time of the year when the tweens don't necessarily have too many other things going on, anyway. The book group is fun, and then it's over by the time their schedules get jam-packed again. Plus- and don't tell the tweens this!- summer is when they really need the brain exercise of reading a book and finding something to say about it.

Why tweens? Your mileage may vary, but I find the middle school age group to be the most receptive to this kind of activity. They're old enough to read books with plenty of thought-provoking content, but not yet so self-conscious that they won't open up and talk in front of their peers.

Does it work? You might think it would be hard to generate a sense of camaraderie among kids who only meet three times during the summer and then go their separate ways, but over three years of hosting a summer tween book group, I watched the so many of same kids come back to book group, growing taller each time they returned. For me, the ultimate affirmation that this book group format works was when one of our regulars delayed his family's out-of-state move by one day... just so he could attend his last book group meeting. Awwwww.

What to read? Choose a book that will really engage the participants, something they would read for fun. Ideally, the book should foster discussion, but be fast-paced and gripping, and should have appeal to both male and female readers. Here are a few titles that have been a big hit with my tween book group:

The Hunger Games
, by Suzanne Collins
Schooled, by Gordon Korman
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, by David Lubar
Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

Next time: what do tweens want from a book group?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Hereafter, by Tara Hudson

Hudson, Tara. Hereafter. 416 p. HarperCollins. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780062026774.

I am a sucker for a good afterlife story, so it's no surprise that I couldn't put down this very readable ghostly romance.

Amelia knows she's been dead for a while, but she doesn’t know much else. She wanders through the afterlife aimless and alone until something happens that changes everything—she witnesses Joshua, a boy her age, nearly drowning in a river... and to her utter shock, he sees her, too.

The story’s pace is leisurely at first, primarily devoted to developing Amelia and Joshua's relationship and establishing the main conflicts. Even though the first portion of the book isn't exactly plot-driven, I found myself captivated by the details of Amelia’s afterlife existence, and loved learning about fragments of her life as she and Joshua uncover them. Thus, I was completely invested in the characters by the time the action ramped up toward the latter third of the book, and absolutely could not put it down.

Elements of this story I particularly liked include the author's clear fondness for the Oklahoma setting, Joshua's attempt at jogging Amelia's memories of her life by playing music from her era (I want to know what songs the author had in mind!), and the tension-filled forbidden romance.

Those who enjoyed other afterlife stories, such as Laura Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light, Neal Shusterman's Everlost, and Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere, will certainly warm to this one. Although this book is the first in a planned series, its story is wrapped up neatly, with a just a few tantalizing loose threads left hanging to make the reader eager for the sequel. Sign me up!

And can I just say? The cover of this book is absolutely stunning. It fits in with my favorite current trend for YA covers: pretty dresses! The translucency of the figure the perfect way to depict a ghost, and the colors of the sky and water are so eye-catching. I read this as an ebook, but if I’d been strolling down the aisle of a bookstore, I would definitely be drawn in by that beautiful cover.

Hereafter hits shelves today. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Reading Craft: Matchbox Louvre

Continuing with the post I made several weeks ago about my Teen Summer Reading Program crafts-- I present the Matchbox Louvre.

I was inspired by the concept of teeny-tiny crafts called matchbox shrines or pocket shrines. It's a great craft idea that can be adapted to any theme- I did a Twilight-themed version for a Breaking Dawn party back in 2008. Since I'm centering each of my Summer Reading crafts around a different region of the world to go with the "You Are Here" theme, I thought these miniature works of art would be the perfect showcase for more famous works of art-- from France! After all, when you think France, you think Paris... and when you think Paris, you think the Louvre.

Well, actually, I think of delicious pastries when I think of Paris, but there's that whole "no food in the library" rule, so... art it is!

I bought the matchboxes on Amazon from a seller called Party Favors Plus, and all other supplies came from my local Michael's. I bought scrapbooking paper (they even have small books of 5x5 papers, perfect for the diminutive size of this craft!), Mod Podge, and plenty of adhesive sparklies.

By the way? It bears mentioning that when working with Mod Podge or any other type of glue, always dole it out in small containers for the teens to work with. Never put out the entire container. Just, um, trust me on this.

Creating this craft was fun! I covered the front of the box with a piece of scrapbooking paper and then decorated with adhesives.

The matchbox slides open to reveal a tiny work of art. I printed out selected images from the Louvre's online gallery of paintings that the teens can choose from.

A tiny label with information about the painting can be affixed to the inside of the box, so the teens know what they're looking at when the make this craft. (Shhh, don't tell them it's educational!)

I finished up by covering the back and sides of the box with a vintage map of Paris. In addition to a few different maps, I'm offering the teens various images of antique French stamps, and photos of famous spots in Paris to chose from. The images come from Microsoft Publisher's clip art or flickr's Creative Commons photos.

I can't wait to see the results of this craft. Teens are always so creative-- each little matchbox Louvre will be unique. I know not all teens are into art or museums, but I think the lure of creating and customizing an adorably tiny craft will have wide appeal. And if nothing else, there are the adhesive sparklies to play with! You can never go wrong with sparklies.
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