My AALL Experience

by David Knight

Many times at conferences, the keynote speaker’s address is something going on in another room while attendees run from booth to booth in the exhibit hall gathering as much vendor swag as possible. That was not the case at the AALL Annual Meeting, as the ballroom for the keynote speaker was packed beyond capacity, as many attendees, including myself, found a nice spot in the floor to listen to Dahlia Lithwick. And although she spoke for the full time allotted, and may have even gone over by a bit, hardly anyone left before she finished and it appeared as if the audience would’ve liked to continue to ask questions well into the next session.

Lyn Warmath recently posted her thoughts on Dahlia’s address as well, but I would like to discuss a different aspect of it. To me, the most thought provoking part of her address was about how technology is changing what we consider, or once considered, free speech. She drew an analogy about how yelling fire in a crowded movie theater was not free speech. But because social media and technology now allows for more direct, immediate communication, some question whether the movie theater is now the world. The omnipresent media we live with, combined with technology, can amplify private speech into public speech, and if public speech becomes assaultive, it should no longer be free. That technology outpaces the law is not a recent phenomenon. The difference we see today, she pointed out, is that technology forces us to alter our paradigm of what we might consider free speech more than ever.

One of the most memorable sessions I attended was Providing Excellent Service in Law Libraries: Hold the Pickles, presented by Vanessa Uribe from El Dorado County Law Library, and Kelly Browne from Sacramento County Public Law Library. Their model was inspired by a customer service training program developed by the owner of Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Zingerman’s Deli has become renowned in the small business circles as having a great employment culture. Zingerman’s model is so successful that the company set up a separate training company to meet demand.

According to this model, there are five steps to overhaul an organization’s culture: teach it, define it, live it, measure it, and then reward it. In the training step, one should remember the 5-90-5 rule, meaning that while 5% of people are born with great service instincts, another 5% would or could never provide great service. However, 90% of people fall in between, so it’s important to teach the desired method of service or tone of culture by example from the top down. In teaching great service, one must define it. Definitions might include, but are not limited to, making eye contact with the person being served, affirm any frustration and stop doing what you were doing when the customer approaches. Also taught in this step is how to best handle a complaint about service and the precept of “fairness is on another planet”. By this, it means employees should keep in mind that complaints are not to be taken as a personal attack. After great service is taught and defined, the organization must live it as systematic. Once it is systematic, it should be measured, comparing complaints against successes. And finally, are those who consistently deliver great service recognized or rewarded? Think not only of recognizing or rewarding individuals, but groups as well.

Many libraries and organizations across the country have implemented Zingerman’s model and changed their culture for the better. Who knew a small deli in a college town could have such an impact? This just goes to show that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere.

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