Tag Archives: trainee

Thoughts on positive thinking

A little while ago I wrote a guest post for the Library Trainee Network, a new website which aims to curate people’s views and experiences of their traineeships, qualifications and first professional posts. My post, which is about my experience of the MA Librarianship course at Sheffield, just went live yesterday and you can read it here. It’s been getting quite a good reaction on Twitter and I think this might be because it’s an overwhelmingly positive post, which is (dare I say) a little bit unusual. A lot of the stuff I’ve read about the various LIS courses on offer in the UK has been a lot more negative and there seems to be a strong feeling out there that the qualification is “just a piece of paper” or “just a hoop to jump through”, with little in the way of redeeming qualities. I do understand where this feeling has come from – this is a qualification you have to get if you want to “unlock” the next level of job (I know there are other routes, but this seems to be the most-used one if you want your career to progress quickly), and so it can feel like it’s just something that needs to be ticked off a long list of qualifications, training and development on the journey to becoming a fully-fledged library/information professional.


However, I also believe that it’s far too easy to focus on the negatives and forget that there are any positives at all – and I don’t mean this just about your MA/MSc, but about all areas of life. It’s much easier to have a moan to your friends, whether it’s face-to-face, on social media or by other means, than it is to celebrate small positive points about life. I know it’s true for me, at least; I often find that when I get together with friends over coffee or food, our conversation will become a stream of gripes and complaints about work, study, home life, other friends, etc. It’s far more common for me to log on to Twitter to post a moany tweet about trains than it is to say something positive. Of course this can be useful and constructive – friends and Twitter followers can help you work out what to do about a problem, or see a different side of a story, or sympathise with you, or remind you that it’s not all that bad. They can just sit and agree with you as well, and that’s ok too. Getting stuff off your chest and letting off steam are things we all need to do, and should do. I’m not saying there’s no place for having a bit of a moan now and then, but I think it’s a shame if all anyone ever hears about a certain topic (e.g. the MA course) is its bad points.


I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe that there’s anyone who gets to the end of their Masters course and honestly says, “well, that was a complete waste of time (and money)”. We all benefit in some way from choosing to study on this course – whether it be new knowledge, new opportunities, new skills or new friends. I know that it would have taken me a lot longer to build up the knowledge and abilities that I have now, if I hadn’t done the course. In just 20 weeks of teaching I’ve developed as a person and as a professional, and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved. No, I haven’t learned everything there is to learn – but I’ve got the rest of my career to do that!


Of course there are some things I didn’t enjoy about the course. Of course there are! These courses are designed to fit a lot of very different people who all want slightly different things from the same set of modules, and you can’t please everyone all the time. I think that there’s something to be said for the whole “change the things you can change, accept the things you can’t” idea, though; when we were unhappy with how a module was going, we gave lots of feedback to the Information School, and they’re completely overhauling it for next year. Granted, this doesn’t affect my experience of that module, but it does (hopefully) mean that the people who come after me will have a better time of it. I’m pleased that as a year group and a community we didn’t just resort to complaining about it amongst ourselves, but actually did something about it and got things changed. Out of a negative experience came positive action.


I know that this all might come across as a bit moany in itself, and I do see the irony in that, but I’m going with the defence that this is something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for a while. It’s not directed at anyone specific, it’s just the result of hearing a lot of complaints about people’s courses during the last couple of years, and getting a little bit tired of the seemingly endless negativity (about all aspects of life) on Twitter. I don’t want to be controversial or to spark a huge debate about who exactly is too negative or bitchy or whatever. I’m just resolving to be a more positive person and to share more of the good stuff than the bad stuff about the course, about librarianship in general, and about life. (Cheesy!)


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Well begun is half done


I’m officially halfway through my traineeship now – week 26 is over and done with. I thought I’d have a look back at some of the things I was most nervous about at the beginning, and see how things have changed now. I went through my first few blog posts and found loads of places where I said “I’m scared of X” or “I don’t really like Y”. Here are a few things that terrified me six months ago:

–          Having a job. As I’ve mentioned a few times, this is my first ever 9-5 real-world job, and so I was really nervous about what it actually would be like, and whether I’d fit in and actually like it. Luckily my fears about this were unfounded, as everyone’s really friendly and the work is (mostly) interesting and enjoyable (giant spreadsheets excluded).

–          Being the “new girl”. I’ve never liked being the centre of attention, so being the new person who everyone’s watching, and who’s being a bit of a nuisance because she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first. But again, as I got to know people and learned more, I felt less like a sore thumb and more like part of the team. When I started being able to do projects such as digitisation on my own, it helped me feel less like I was getting under people’s feet, which really helped.

–          Doing something wrong. I think this is a pretty normal fear, to be honest! I was deathly afraid of doing something so terribly wrong that I’d get fired on the spot – but even though I did make mistakes, they were easily fixable, and the world didn’t end. After I broke the photocopier by accidentally pulling its lid off, I think this fear was well and truly vanquished. Of course I still don’t want to make mistakes, but I’m able to acknowledge now that everyone will do so now and then, and I’m not so scared of the consequences any more.

–          Answering the phone. I am quite shy in social situations, which has meant in the past that I didn’t want to go to places like the bank or the post office, or generally put myself in situations where I’d have to talk to people I didn’t know. I’m slowly getting better at this, although I still have to rehearse conversations in my head before going to the bank. For the first few weeks here I was, understandably, quite wary of the phone – I knew I would be unable to help whoever was on the other end of it, so I tended to just run away from it instead. But these days I can answer the phone to pretty much anyone and know that I can deal with most queries unless they’re really unusual, which has helped me feel a lot more confident in myself in terms of social skills.

–          Dealing with customers. This is another “social skills” thing that I feel a lot better about these days. I’ve always been able to talk to people and explain things to them, but since working here and interacting with students and staff with all sorts of queries and complaints, I feel a lot more secure in how I deal with various situations. The training we had back before Christmas on dealing with difficult customers certainly helped as well, as I’ve had quite a few times where I’ve had to tell people about large fines or other problems. Obviously, for librarianship, customer service skills can be really important, so I’m really glad I’ve had so many opportunities to get better at this during the year.

–          Podcasting. This is something I’d never done before, but seeing as making a podcast involves a PowerPoint presentation and a spoken explanation of how to use something, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined, and I’m now on to my third one.

I’ve definitely come a long way since the early days of my traineeship, but there’s a lot of stuff I still want to try out and become braver about. Next week is my first joint teaching session, which I’m looking forward to (and a bit nervous about). Hopefully I’ll have other opportunities to do this later on in the year, because even though I’m apprehensive, I think I’ll enjoy it.

I also want to attend some events on librarianship, so I’m starting off with Manchester NLPN’s Spring Event in April. After that I may even get brave enough to attend an unconference or Library Camp!

I want to get more involved in projects where I can test my skills and learn new things, for example the overhaul of our digitisation records, which I did before Christmas. Hopefully as we progress through this year and more preparations are made for the move in 2014, there’ll be opportunities for me to take on some responsibilities for things like this.

Finally, I want to do more networking. Generally, being a shy person has meant that I’ve shied away (geddit?) from interacting with people, either face-to-face or on social media, but I’m gradually getting more involved in online chats about library-related things. I’m a regular lurker on #uklibchat discussions on Twitter, but one day soon I might actually bite the bullet and join in – what’s the worst that can happen? I think attending events will also help with networking, as we don’t get many opportunities in our traineeship to meet people from outside MMU, and it’ll be interesting to meet people from other types of libraries at the MNLPN event in April.

The first six months of this job have flown by, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the warmer, sunnier half of my traineeship will bring. Here’s to the future!


(featured header image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ewestrum/4590703575/)


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What’s been happening?

It’s been a little while since I last wrote anything, and that’s partly because I forgot, and partly because not much has happened. Recently I’ve been doing a lot more of the same stuff at work – withdrawals list, podcasts, rinse, repeat. I got some feedback on my last set of podcasts which was basically “too small, too blurry, too quiet”, so I’ll need to redo them this week. I finally finished the large chunk of the withdrawals list that I was given, but it’s not the end – I’ve got roughly another 150 pages to go, but I’m taking a break from that at the moment as we have a new toy to play with at the library. It’s called a Digital Library Assistant and looks like an alien ray gun. It reads RFID tags inside books on the shelf and generates a list of exactly what we’ve got, which is really useful for when the stock gets moved to its new home in 2014. However, we’re having some teething problems with it, in that it seems to not have recognised everything on the shelf, so I’m going round the stock finding books that it missed so we can work out what happened there. It’s almost identical to my withdrawals task, but it feels different, so I’m enjoying the “change”.

Other things I did this week and last:

– Fill in a book order card for the first time in months, completely mess it up and have to start again. Argh!

– Receipt and process 3 parcels-full of new books, which weighed a ton. One of the books was tiny – about 5cm by 10cm, spiral-bound, 30 pages long. Very cute, but very fiddly when it comes to getting a stamping sheet inside.

– Create new shelf-end signs for the book rooms, to make it a bit easier to navigate the shelves. They look great, but I had some trouble getting the old ones off – I had to take a ruler and scissors to a few of them to lever them off as they’d been stuck down with miles of sticky stuff, and in the small book room I had to use a screwdriver as they were screwed on. This caused a bit of a panic when I thought that I had accidentally dismantled a shelving system, but turns out the shelves are just wobbly anyway. Phew.

– laminate a LOT of things. As well as the shelf-end signs, I made new “New Books” signs and one explaining how to locate books. That all adds up to a lot of plastic pockets to fight with.

– digitise a book chapter for someone, get to page 26/30 and very nearly press the “cancel” button on the scanner. Almost had a heart attack.

– not much else! It’s slow at the moment, but we’ve got new students in, so there’s a lot of teaching and a lot of people needing help at the enquiry desk. Every so often we get floods of students coming to the counter after their induction session, all wanting their PINs for their library accounts. We’re heading towards dissertation season, so things will pick up soon.

– on Friday and Monday I took annual leave, and went off to a tiny village in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales for some much-needed fresh air. Here is a picture of said air (and some scenery):

Here is where I was at the weekend. Bliss.

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Just brilliant. We watched the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and I was really glad to have Monday off to recover! Tuesday was hard going at work, but as I have Wednesday mornings off, I am feeling very refreshed and relaxed now.

It’s been mentioned that I might do a blog post for some friends of mine about my job and future plans, which will be nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but I’ll post a link to that for you if it happens.

That’s about it for now – hopefully something interesting will happen soon, and then these posts will be a bit more interesting!

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I Got Skills, They’re Multiplyin’

Excuse the terrible title but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been doing some self-reflection lately, because it is a Thing Librarians Do, and it’s good for personal and professional development and stuff. Not that I’m a professional yet, but I like to get into habits early. So I thought I’d just write down some of the things I’ve achieved so far as a Graduate Trainee, so I’ve got a record of them for later on.

I think it’s amazing to look back at what I was like when I started this job and compare that to how I am now. I have always thought of myself as someone who is quite confident and self-sufficient, but obviously when you start a new job in a field you have no experience in, you’re not going to be relaxed and confident straight away. In fact I’d go as far as to say I experienced some “culture shock” – I’ve never worked in a library or indeed any kind of office environment before so there was a lot of adjusting to be done. The development from September to now is huge – I’m a lot better at dealing with customers and their enquiries, and that’s just the start of it. I think the most important thing that’s happened is that I’ve actually learned what it is that librarians do all day. I’m not talking about any of the stereotypical images here – they don’t just stamp books, or “shh” people, and they definitely don’t sit around behind the counter reading books all day. I’ve learnt about cataloguing, book ordering, budgeting, management, teaching, stock maintenance/editing, and much more. Here are some of my highlights from the last few months:

I made some instructional podcasts! One is here and there are two more waiting to go up.

I learned to digitise articles and chapters using online software, I reorganised the filing system and wrote an instruction manual detailing the digitisation process from start to finish. I also helped with a project to stamp all the copies of books that have had chapters digitised, and record the progress on a spreadsheet. Librarians love spreadsheets.


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I wrote a helpsheet about accessing theses and articles online, which is available at the enquiry and issue desks for students to take. Sadly it’s not online for me to show it off to you (but the information is).

I’m still doing this mammoth withdrawals list. It’s really useful work (so I keep reminding myself) as we prepare the library stock for the move to All Saints in 2014, as when I’m finished, we will have an accurate count of how many books are in stock here. I’ve found a few that were “withdrawn” but still sitting on the shelf, so it’s a good way of creating space and keeping things tidy.

I’ve attended training sessions which are giving me a great insight on how the library works, including ones on policies and procedures, customer service skills, presenting, teaching InfoSkills, and Endnote. I’ve also been able to go behind the scenes at Library Support Services and Special Collections to hear about the work they do.

I’ve sat in on teaching sessions, both inductions and InfoSkills, and have helped out with hands-on sections in these sessions, helping students work through the tasks we set them. In March I’ll be team-teaching a session, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve done some networking – not much, admittedly, but I am part of some groups on Facebook, connecting with other library trainees, and I follow other people’s blogs and Twitter accounts. This is all helping me get an idea of what’s happening in the wider world of librarianship, with updates from established professionals, students and other GTs. I’ve also met some library people face-to-face!

I’ve learned the basics of Talis, the library management software, and can now issue and discharge books like a pro.

I’ve created and updated reading lists, keeping them up-to-date with new books that we get in stock.

I’ve learned to receipt new books, adding them to the system and checking that their details are correct.

I’ve helped people with enquiries, which can range from “how do I use the printer” to “how can I find articles on my really obscure dissertation topic” to “where is the nearest NHS walk-in centre”.

The other day I used the typewriter for the first time. I’ve never used a working typewriter before and I quite enjoyed it – even if my first go didn’t quite work properly! Here is my first ever attempt at making a spine label for a book with the typewriter. I had to do it again after I realised I hadn’t done the letters in capitals:

My first attempt at using the typewriter

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I’ve probably left loads of stuff off that list, but it’s long enough already for you to get an idea of how much I’ve learned in four and a half months. I think the main thing is that I’m a lot more confident in my abilities now – I don’t have to ask other people for confirmation that I’m doing the right thing as much any more (although I still ask about the really weird stuff!). I’ve also got over my fear of speaking to people on the phone, which is handy. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with my progress and am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year will bring.

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January News

So I’m at the end of week 19 already. I’m more than a third of the way in to my traineeship now, which is crazy. This week the university started advertising for next year’s graduate trainees, which made me think about how different life is now from a year ago. I was so stressed out last year, after having finally chosen a career path, and then finding it actually really difficult to get a job that would get me into librarianship. I sent out tons of applications, and it was quite demoralising to get rejection letter after rejection letter (or worse, silence). And look at me now! I’m here in Manchester and I’m loving it. I won’t say I’m loving every minute, because I definitely did not love discovering that part of the ceiling had fallen in on Monday morning, and I won’t pretend I’ve loved every single second of this withdrawals odyssey, but on the whole I am absolutely ecstatic to be in this job. If you are reading this and considering applying for my job, DO IT. It’s been a great learning experience.

Anyway, what did I do this week? Take a wild guess. Yep, more withdrawals. This project is taking a long time but it’s the sort of job where it’s easy to measure progress, so it doesn’t feel like it’s interminable (well, only a little bit). I’ve almost finished checking the books in the small book room (small room, not small books), which means I’m just about up to 302 in the Dewey sequence. In terms of physical location that feels pretty good, but in reality I know I’ve got about 300 pages of the spreadsheet to go, so I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to be finished any time soon. We’re getting a placement student in February so I will be able to palm some of the workload off onto him/her. I’ve said before that I don’t mind doing this stuff, and it’s true, and that’s partly because I get to explore the shelves. I’m finding all sorts of weird stuff up there, including an English-Chinese dictionary of psychology (we don’t have the Chinese-English part) and the Handbook of Butter and Cheese Making, which is really out of place in a nursing and psychology library! We’re considering compiling a list of our favourites. I’d be interested to hear from any other library people who’ve discovered interesting titles on their shelves. Anyone?

I haven’t been doing withdrawals completely non-stop this week. It was back to term-time hours this week so I got to spend part of Monday on the enquiry desk, which is one of my favourite parts of the week. Helping people is an easy way to feel good about yourself, so 10.45-12.45 on a Monday is basically a two-hour feel-good fest for me. I did have some odd enquiries this week, which made it an interesting session. One girl kept topping up her print allowance without ever being able to actually use the money, which was a strange one.

The other thing I’ve mentioned which happened on Monday was my discovery of the leaky roof upstairs. As I’ve said before, the building is lovely but very old and absolutely falling apart. The poor thing needs some good care and attention, although sadly I think it’s going to be abandoned after the university vacates it next year. So on Monday morning I went up into the small book room to get some withdrawal work done, and realised I could hear a dripping noise. And there was debris on the floor, and wait, was that a large damp patch on the carpet? *eyes creep upward* Oh… Half a ceiling tile was missing. Annoyingly there’s not much that can be done about this, it seems, and so we just have to hope it doesn’t rain too much! The books are fine, thankfully.

Monday was pretty hectic all round – it was the first day of term, and loads of assignments were due in. There were absolute hordes of students coming through the library and just hanging around near printers and stuff. There wasn’t as much chaos as some hand-in days, although apparently the printers did go offline for a bit in the evening, which must have been nerve-wracking.

The rest of the week has been fairly normal; I’ve had some stints on the issue desk and lots of time for withdrawals, and that’s pretty much it. On Friday we went to a training session on Endnote Web, and while it was good for me to learn how it works so I can help students on the enquiry desk, I’m still not convinced I will ever use it for myself. Plus, it didn’t work as seamlessly as promised with the library catalogue, so I’m not sold on its usefulness.

Next week I’m going to shake things up a bit and record a couple of podcasts, which will break up the week a little. It’s been a while since I’ve had more than one thing on my to-do list!

Everyone’s talking about the potential for a snow-day in the next couple of weeks. I’d like to see a little bit of snow, but not so much that it gets inconvenient. Snow for weekends only, I think. We shall see what happens – I’m not sure a heavy snowfall would be good for the structural integrity of the poor old building!

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Week Fourteen Already?!

I’m (un)officially past my thirteen-week probation period, so they can’t chuck me out now! I say “unofficially” because I haven’t yet had the thirteen-week review, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything so terribly awful that I’d be asked to leave.

Here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

My big project in the last couple of weeks has been sorting out withdrawn books. These are books that aren’t in the library any more, usually because they’re too old and out of date, but which still show up in the system. I’ve had a couple of enormous print-outs of spreadsheets (the current one has about 2500 items on it) to look at, and I’ve had to check the shelves to make sure that none of the books are still in the library when they shouldn’t be, and then removing them properly from the system. It’s not particularly difficult, but it is time-consuming! I’ve got through all the One Week Loan books and I’m almost done with the 2500 Reference books that don’t exist, and then it’ll be time for Lending copies. That one will take the longest, as that is the type of book that we have most of, but hopefully I’ll be able to get one of my colleagues to help out on that.

I also finished writing my instruction manual for digitisation. I spent a while doing these as I wanted them to be as clear and helpful as possible, and I got one of the Senior Library Assistants to test it out so I could make changes. I was really pleased to see it in use and I only had to add a couple of things before it was finished. I got some great feedback about it as well – it is something to put on my CV, apparently! I’m hoping this will be the start of a long and happy career showing people how to do things. On that subject, I’ve also started creating a new podcast which will show students how to use their NHS Athens accounts and the NHS resources available to them. This podcast is radically different from the last one I did, and neither of them is particularly bog-standard, but it’s the sort of challenge I enjoy and it certainly seems to be becoming one of my strong points.

I also worked with another spreadsheet last week – all the books that we digitised are supposed to be stamped with a stamp so we know not to get rid of them (which would be against CLA rules). However, most of the books have more than one copy, so we compiled a spreadsheet of all the copies of books that have had chapters digitised, and then hunted them down to stamp them and cross them off the list. Lots of the books are out on loan, so we had to go onto the system to put messages on for them to be stamped when they’re returned. It’s been quite successful so far, and we’ve managed to cross off almost all the books on the list, although we’ll still be doing this in the spring as some of the books are on long loan.

Last week was also fairly dramatic in a few ways – on Thursday the system went down first thing in the morning so none of the computers could issue or discharge books, and the self-service machines were also out of action. We almost had to resort to paper for the day, but luckily everything came back online about 5 minutes after we opened the doors to students.

On Friday it was deadline day for a large number of our students, so we were very busy all afternoon and the printers kept running out of paper and ink. The staplers couldn’t handle the pressure and gave up the ghost too, which was an added stress factor. Most of the students managed to sort themselves out in good time, but a couple of them left things until the last minute and we had to literally chase them out of the darkened building at closing time. That definitely didn’t help any of our blood pressures!

We’ve also had a number of “ghostly” goings-on this week. You may remember I’ve mentioned the ghosts before; apparently this building is haunted, although I’ve only just found out the story behind all this. The college was requisitioned by the government during the war and turned into a hospital, and the story goes that the ghosts of children can be heard running through the corridors and giggling. The other morning one of the security guards rushed into the library and said he’d heard a child scream, but there wasn’t anyone else in the building yet. This prompted a whole day of ghost stories and the attribution of recent weird happenings to “the ghosts”. The books upstairs keep getting pushed to the backs of the shelves when we’re not looking, and the display table for new books gets mysteriously rearranged every so often. Some of the library staff are convinced it’s the ghost children, as it’s the sort of mischievous thing kids would do, although there are a couple of flaws to this – a lot of the shelves are too high for children to reach, for a start. There’s also the minor ghosts-don’t-exist thing. It’s probably just bored students, although it’s a bit of a strange hobby.

To round off this post, here are a couple of things that made me laugh this week: first, a funny thing someone said to me the other day at a party. I’d just told her what I do and she said “oh, that sounds so PEACEFUL. How LOVELY.” (yes, in that exact voice) I thought, if only you knew the truth…! Yes, the library might not be full of students with enquiries all the time, but we’re always busy behind the scenes! Secondly, I noticed that someone found my blog by Googling “MMU Graduate Trainee Salary”.  I hope they weren’t expecting to find me blogging about my champagne-drinking lifestyle. It’s strictly fizzy water on a GT salary!


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Dealing with people: November Training Session

**Mammoth Blog Post Alert**

A couple of weeks ago we went to the next instalment of the Graduate Trainee Training Programme: Understanding Customer Communication. On the original training calendar this was called “Dealing with Difficult Customers”, which is slightly different in tone, but I was excited for whatever it ended up being, as customer interaction is a huge part of the job and I’m grateful for any tips I get!

We had been given some homework to do beforehand, which was to think of some difficult situations in the library that are challenging to deal with, and to fill in a questionnaire. I’ll talk a bit more about the questionnaire later, but we dealt with the first part of the homework first.

Our first task was to chat in pairs about how we felt about difficult situations. To help with this, we were given some cards with photos on. The photos ranged from a lion in mid-stride, a man looking at a glacier, a traffic jam and a spider web. I ended up choosing the man and the glacier, as I often feel that I don’t know where to start with people’s queries. I also mentioned that I would like to feel like the photo of an orchestra conductor – in control!

We then grouped up for discussion of different things – one group discussed sources of customer frustration, one group talked about helpful skills and behaviour when dealing with frustrated customers, and we thought about the most challenging behaviour displayed by frustrated customers. The first group came up with things like jargon, fines, lack of resources, IT problems and other people. We then looked at data collected by one of the librarians about what generates the most Library feedback. It was interesting to see that Library staff was the thing that comes up most frequently in feedback – thankfully it is overwhelmingly positive feedback! The second most talked-about topic in customer feedback is other users. This, unsurprisingly, is overwhelmingly negative – after all, you’re not going to fill in a comment card saying “the person sitting next to me is very quiet and well-behaved”, are you?! Other big topics included opening hours, temperature and stock levels – all mostly negative as well. It was interesting to hear from staff at other sites about what they thought would be the most complained-about things – staff from All Saints talked about their entry barriers, while staff from sites focused more on opening hours. I know that Gaskell has a big problem with the temperature, as we are based in an old building with single-glazed windows, but obviously this won’t be a problem in the shiny new All Saints library!

The seond group shared some of their ideas about helpful behaviour when dealing with difficult situations, and it was much as you’d expect – empathy, listening, open body language, remaining calm, that sort of thing. A good point raised was that it is much easier to be assertive when you’re confident in what you’re saying – so being informed and up-to-date on Library policies and procedures is a good idea.

We then shared some of the challenging behaviour we’d experienced from customers, which was stuff like not listening, being misinformed, and being impatient (I hate this!). An interesting thing to think about arose from this: Would this have frustrated you if it was the first customer of the day? I think the answer would be “no” more often than not, highlighting the importance of stopping for a second and collecting yourself before starting to deal with a customer.

We then looked at body language and non-verbal communication. Body language and tone of voice together make up 93% of your message, according to Albert Mehrabian. This is why it’s especially important to match how you’re acting to what you’re saying when dealing with customers – the listener can tell when you’re not sincere. To illustrate just how much we can tell from non-verbal signals, we looked at famous pictures of politicians, including this one of Bill Clinton showing just what he thinks of what Bob Dole’s saying in 1996:

Some interesting snippets of information for you from this: mirroring the other person’s behaviour makes them think you’ve got a good rapport; anxiety and stress send adrenaline to your arms and legs, making you fidget, and making nervous public speakers look so uncomfortable on stage; “pace and lead” is a good technique for modulating someone’s behaviour (e.g. matching someone’s volume before becoming quieter and calming them down). It’s important to deal with the emotion before the issue, otherwise you won’t get anywhere.

We then moved on to the really fascinating part of the session, which was all about Transactional Analysis. This is the Freudian idea that everyone has different states of being, which are all useful at different times. The trick is to recognise what state someone is in and to respond effectively. The three ego states are:

Parent – either Nurturing Parent (“well done”!) or Critical Parent (“don’t do that!”), dealing with manners and rules.

Adult – this is when you’re rational and assertive.

Child – either Free Child (“This is fun!”) or Adaptive Child (“I can’t do it!”), dealing with feelings. The Adaptive Child can be whiny and manipulative.

There’s no such thing as good or bad when it comes to ego states, but we all have a tendency to default to a certain one, and the challenge is to decide whether it’s the most useful one for the situation you’re in. This is where the questionnaire we did for homework came in: it had 61 statements which you had to put a + or – next to, depending on whether you agreed or disagreed with them. The statements were things like “I love fast driving”, “There is too much sex and violence on TV these days”, “Generally, I manage to keep a calm appearance when I am feeling very upset”. We got a point for each +, which went into the relevant Parent, Adult or Child column. When you add up your scores and plot them on a graph, you find out which ego state is your default. I am mostly a Child, which is not much of a surprise as I can be very impulsive (and have been known to be whiny on occasions). If you’re also a Child, this means you let emotions dominate your decisions; Adults let rationality guide them, and Parents are influenced most strongly by morals. You can teach yourself to change states, which I found quite interesting.

We watched a clip from the Apprentice, which you can watch here (the first scene and then from 2:30), illustrating times when being a Child or a Parent is not particularly useful, Philip. We also discussed how certain ego states are looking for certain responses; if someone says something like “I’m rubbish at doing presentations” (Adaptive Child state), they’re looking for a Nurturing Parent response – “don’t worry, I’ll help you”. Similarly, something you often see in customer situations is the customer saying something in their Critical Parent state (“the services here are rubbish!”), seeking a Child response (“oh no, I’m really sorry”). Although you might think that the best state for customer interactions is always Adult, this isn’t what the customer might be expecting, and it’s often better to adopt a circular approach: Act as they’re expecting first of all, then lead them round towards an Adult-Adult interaction. For example, the Parent statement “the services here are rubbish!” can be responded to with a Child statement, “I’m really sorry”, followed by a Parent statement, “I’m sure we can find a way of making this better”, finished up with an Adult question – “what would you like me to do?”. This hopefully provokes an Adult, rational answer. Another good tactic is to make the other person work hard, especially if they’re in Adaptive Child state – ask them questions such as “what have you tried already?” or “what do you think should happen now?”. This forces them to stop playing the “game” they’re playing with you.

After looking a little bit at these different roles, it’s really interesting to watch people interacting and to work out what states they’re in. The session was really thought-provoking and will definitely come in useful when situations arise in the library. Hopefully following this course I’ll feel a lot more in control and able to deal with difficult customers! I’ve also been reading a good book about Transactional Analysis, called Counselling for Toads by Robert de Board. I’d definitely recommend it if you want to look at this theory in more detail (and explained a bit better than I’ve managed!).


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