Extreme Customer Service at Darien Library

I recently visited Darien Library with the goal of checking out their innovative approach to technology – goal achieved! Check out the video in this post (and thanks to John Blyberg for the tour and for putting up with my video camera!). While their technology is amazingly cool, that’s not really what excited me. What excited me most was Darien’s idea of extreme customer service.

During my Darien visit, I had the privilege of chatting with Louise Berry, Alan Gray, and John Blyberg over lunch (great lunch, great conversation – thanks guys!). We talked about technology, new library buildings, and how we should be serving our library customers. Louise and Alan told me about their library’s core message – extreme customer service. Basically, they want to demonstrate extreme customer service in everything they do.

This idea of a “core message” is discussed in the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. Most of the book is devoted to making your core message “stick” – this is what Darien Library has done.

They even provided examples. During lunch, Louise, Alan and John mentioned an after-hours wine and cheese event they held at the library. The library was closed, but doors were open. Patrons not attending the event came in anyway … and guess what? They weren’t turned away – instead, they were allowed to check out books (RFID-based self-check-out machines help). Staff were even seen setting up new library cards for patrons. This is very different from what many libraries do. For most after-hours events, patrons would simply be told (nicely, I’m sure) to come back tomorrow.

So – one example of extreme customer service at Darien. You can find another example in the video. Watch for the mini laptops in the children’s area of the library. Those are staff public service laptops used for roaming reference type stuff. But listen to the children’s staff talk about them – kids pick those laptops up and use them. Patrons even use the public service desktop … and Darien’s staff is fine with that! When I asked about this, here’s what I heard: “why would we NOT allow that?”

John said the same thing later on in my tour (not captured on video). We were in a staff area, and I noticed someone had brought in her personal laptop. I asked what she could connect to … and John said staff can bring in their personal laptops and connect to Darien’s staff-only network. I pried a bit further, and this is when John said “why would we NOT allow that? It would simply hinder their work!” Then John went on to explain that they plan for the exceptions and fix those things, rather than lock down technology so much that it hinders the work of the library. Extreme customer service for their staff, too!

Does your library have a core message, and how does that play out? And … does your library lock technology down so much so that it hinders the work of the library? What would happen if you opened that can of worms up? Would any escape? Something to think about…

CIL2009: Innovation, Services & Practices at the Darien Library

John Blyberg, Gretchen Hams, Sarah Ludwig, Kate Sheehan – all from darienlibrary.org


They think alot about the future. They decided that traditional library services needed to be completely blown apart and put back together in a different way

Innovate – doesn’t have to ONLY refer to technology. Yes.

Pursuing innovation gives you the ability to fail – and it’s ok. Sometimes things work, sometimes things don’t. EX – they figured CDs would be obsolete when new library opened, so they didn’t have CD shelf space. They were wrong! They fixed it and adapted

Being agile is one of their library’s biggest assets – they are a small library, and that allows them to quickly innovate.

Similar to TSCPL – they have buy-in from staff, management, community – so go for it when you have it!

Wash, rinse, repeat – when you build in a culture of change and innovation, everyone expects that – it becomes a way of doing things…

Darien Library UX:

Users=physical, digital users, and staff.

SOPAC2 – thesocialopac.net

open-source catalog overlay thing…

real open source thing – invited other developers to be part of the community. Nice.

Gretchen (children’s librarian):

Kids – don’t come to the library by themselves – their parents come too!

Talking about how we force parents to use our call numbers, go to a big shelf… Not set up for browsing – set up for finding specific items by call number … NOT USER FRIENDLY!

Darien got rid of the picture book section – instead, they have a birth to five section that is color-coded in broad topic areas (celebrations, favorites, all about me, stories, etc)

They had to touch every book. Cool! Hard to circulate books are flying off the shelves because of their rearrangement.

They are focusing on the adults, and how the adults use the library for their kids. Interesting.

Microsoft Surface table – using it for kid interaction. Kids are figuring out how to share, take turns…

Creation Station: Apple laptop, camera, Edirol mp3 player in a briefcase.Kids can use them.

Sarah (teen librarian):

they have one room for teens to just hang out – no books, computers… but has games.

One room for computers, public service desk.

next is a tech center where they teach tech classes.

Some study rooms

There are 2 teen tech librarians. Sweet.


They have iMacs – teens think they’re cool. Using photobooth, doing video chat.

movable furniture – handles on back, wheels on bottom.

Erasable markers for windows and doors…


Duh – have to have it. If you’re serving teens, you have to have gaming.

They don’t program around gaming. Instead, they simply set it up and let them go.

Outreach: through facebook. Fan page, teen advisory board pages… the teen advisory page is created and ran by teens (very important).

Create a professional account, and use it for library stuff. She has a professional profile that looks friendly and inviting.

Don’t friend your colleagues! Only friend teens.

Teens and Tech:

Oral history project – the teens are going out into the community, videoing older Darien residents… the teens will edit the videos, mashing it all together, posting it to the library website.

Going to form a teen tech advisory group. Teens will guide the library in what they’re interested in.

Kate (Adult Services):

Reference is dead, long live reference.

Going towards research 1-on-1 projects … where staff invest time into patrons’ projects.

Meet people at their point of need – roam around the library.

How do they make it work? Tiny laptops, wireless phones (ie., asus, the tiny dell pcs, etc)

One big part – having amazing people.

Hard to roam without wireless phone…

They love walking around and engaging with patrons.

Most important tool? Nametags.

Growing pains:

IM reference through Meebo – it has skyrocketed… Meebo isn’t the best tool for those roaming tiny laptops (because of the rollover ads). They are moving to LibraryH3lp

What we’ve learned… this is a permanent work in progress, permanent beta. And it’s ok.

constant asking – “why is this here?”


we stand alot more. we’re all thinking more about the collection. signage has become more important.