25 Feb 2015

Building the habit of excellence in library services

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” - Aristotle

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what we mean by "excellent" customer service in libraries. I think whilst we may often talk about delivering excellence, a lot of us probably don’t, but this is intrinsically a good thing! By excellence, I mean true excellence (itself a rather nebulous concept that means different things to different people), rather than very, very, very good – the latter I think is something a lot of us definitely do deliver on. To me, being very, very good means delivering effective, efficient and consistent services, but crucially acknowledging that there is still always room for improvement – and more importantly, the desire and willingness to improve alongside it.

Indeed, when we look at our services there is probably always something that could be improved upon in an ideal world if resources were plentiful, be it operational factors (more staff, longer opening hours, a broader or deeper collection) or infrastructure (a bigger and better building in which to serve our users for example). Moreover, we live in a dynamic world where the goalposts of excellence are constantly moving, and so it becomes a concept that is almost impossible to define. However, as long as the opportunity to improve exists, we can keep pushing incrementally towards it, and ultimately it becomes ingrained as a habit. It is this mindset and philosophy that I think is so important in service delivery, whereas the mindset of “perceived excellence” can be a dangerous thing. When the day comes that we think we have achieved excellence, complacency can often set in and we stop looking for ways we can do things differently and better.

For me, true excellence or “gold standard” customer service is perhaps something we will never reach in practice, but rather an ideal that we drive towards asymptotically. The key thing is that we are continually working and moving towards it, delivering better services than we did yesterday, and I believe this is far more important and much more tangible for our users than whatever "excellence" might look like.


  1. Yes. Exactly. Excellence is a journey, not a destination. Good piece Mish!

  2. Thanks David - again, I wish I had stolen that one for the post title! :)