I never set out to become a librarian. It was the late 1990s, and I had just returned from living in the UK for a couple of years with my husband and two kids and I had been doing the mom thing so long, I wasn’t sure I was even employable. I did have my super cool 80s power suit (complete with shoulder pads) ready to go as well as some super current DOS and Lotus 123 skills. For reasons that still escape me, a library willingly hired me as a clerk. I was sure this would all be temporary. As soon as I got my skill set updated, I was headed for bigger and better things. However, a couple of people crossed my path early in my career. They made such an impression, that I have often wondered if these people hadn’t been there, would I even be a librarian today?
My first introduction to world of library service was Patti. I have never seen anyone since then train as patiently as Patti did. She was systematic and supportive. I think Patti knew every single patron in the library personally. She knew everyone’s book tastes, favorites and was always paying attention to the small details that customers loved. My entire philosophy of customer service is based on Patti’s attitude toward her clientele and her own personal standard of service. After being trained by her, my mantra became “What would Patti do?”.
However, if I am truly honest, Patti wasn’t the real driving force for developing a vision. She was the model of a hard working, reliable employee with high standards. I still didn’t quite “get it”. Enter my co-worker, Satan*. Satan was having a difficult day helping a “difficult” patron on the computer. To the surprise of no one, Satan was getting frustrated. Satan had about a two question threshold for frustration. In my opinion, Satan would have found Mother Theresa difficult and needy. Satan’s customer service solution was tossing a computer manual to the patron and saying “Figure it out. It’s not the job of the library to teach you.” In one instant, my vision of library service was crystal clear.
Satan is my example of an “anti-leader”. I would be willing to bet there are more Satans running around library world (and sadly very few Pattis). I would have to say that “anti-leaders” have actually been more influential in shaping my philosophy. These people are not just bad managers, horrible co-workers and slackers. It’s more than that. When I was learning the ropes and struggling to find my way, these people, with their abysmal attitudes and customer hating philosophies helped me develop my inner Patti and pointed me toward something positive.
More often than not we have difficult people around us in library service and I don’t mean just the patrons. These folks have just as much to teach us about leadership and customer service as any Patti can and often more. Saying to yourself “I don’t want to be that” is powerful and can actually tell you more about yourself than you might think.
*not really his/her name, just a bit of hyperbole.