Patrons say the Darndest Things

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

Art Linkletter is famous for sharing the funny, and often embarrassing, things that kids will say. As librarians working with the public, we also hear the darndest things. We don’t have a national television show, but with social media we have plenty of outlets we can use to share these gems. As this Booklist Reader post, No Shaming by Erin Downey Howerton, wisely points out, it is important to share these stories with sensitivity. She discusses the need for securing anonymity and using humor in careful ways. Her post would make a great starting point for a staff discussion about how they use the library or personal accounts to share humorous interactions with patrons. It’s also essential to keep your reaction in check when you are with the patron. A couple of years ago a sixth grader asked me for help finding a fictional story about the Holocaust. I was showing her how to find book summaries in our library catalog when after reading through a dozen of them together she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you have any happy Holocaust stories?” That is not the time to make a young patron feel bad about asking for help. She wanted a survivor story, a resistance worker story, a story with hope. Sensitivity training…just another of the skills that library school should include.

Circulating Cheer

Efficiency has been a very hot topic at my library for the past year.  Staff have been constantly applying LEAN tactics to free up resources to allow for more time to address an increasing workload.  Recently we are experimenting with requiring patrons to use our self-check machines for simple check outs, leaving the circulation desk for more involved transactions like new registrations and account issues.  The challenge is to continuously seek out efficiencies without abandoning meaningful and heartfelt patron interactions.

A recent study by Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn of the University of British Columbia concluded that customers buying coffee and interacted with the barista (eye contact, smiled, brief conversation, etc.) actually arrive at their next destination in a better much mood than those who do not.  Customers that set aside efficiency in their commercial interactions in favor of striking up a conversation with the employee leave the building filled with more cheer than when they arrived.  The results of the study also suggest that even though people are often fearful of having social interactions with strangers, they are much happier when they make the attempt.

Library staff should be circulating cheer by encouraging positive interactions with patrons.  Do you greet every person who comes into your building?  Are you encouraging other materials based on the patron’s current stack?  Smile often?  These are just a few easy tactics that can be utilized to strike up a conversation with a patron anywhere in the library.  If we are providing patrons with an opportunity to interact with us, we are circulating cheer that goes beyond our doors.  Do not forget that circulating cheer should always take precedence over efficiency.  The idea is to be present for the patron, which will hopefully spark them to interact and improve their mood!

No matter what size of library, we should be striving to be the place “where everybody knows your name.”  The your library will be know for circulating great materials and cheer!

Work Like a Patron Day

Every October, my favorite holiday rolls around. No, not the one with pumpkins and ghouls, the other one: Work Like a Patron Day!

photo of librarian using a computer at a study table

Perfecting my patron costume and hunting for an outlet

The Swiss Army Librarian blogged about jumping over to the other side of the desk back in 2011, and I fell in love with the idea. For one day, you try to accomplish your daily job while using the public entrance, sitting at the open tables, and maybe even (gasp) using the public wifi.

Let’s be real: working like a patron sounds like a roadblock to getting your job done. You can’t be sure of finding an outlet for your laptop; you might need to talk to someone privately; and that wifi signal just might go down.

These are the very same challenges our patrons face when using our facilities, and every inconvenience of participating in Work Like a Patron Day is an opportunity to identify potential improvements.

Realizing that there are few public places in your library to talk privately means you’ve just experienced the pain of a tutor with a literacy learner who prefers discretion. Walking all the way from the parking lot to the public entrance means you’ve just passed through same barriers as a user with physical challenges.

Work Like a Patron Day rolls around 6 months after National Library Week, so it falls on October 16 this year.  Who’s with me, LL&Fers?

Martial arts knowledge

It’s an Emergency!

Martial arts knowledgeEvery librarian I know has a story about something weird, disgusting, criminal or out of the ordinary at the library.Large scale emergencies are usually obvious and have been addressed in emergency manuals.  Everyone understands the obvious fire or accident, but sometimes things happen that do not fall clearly into the “emergency” column. Having worked mostly in smaller libraries and with small staff, I have been on the spot many times. Let me give a couple of examples from my own experience:

  • Two men verbally sparring about someone being too loud.  It escalates quickly into a shoving match.
  • A woman complains that a student she is tutoring has threatened her.
  • A parent left a four year old child in the youth area while she ran to the grocery store.

I would guess that for most experienced librarians, the above scenarios are not that unusual.  However, these situations do have the potential to escalate into full scale emergencies.  If you are new to working with the public, making that first decision is tough and scary.  Here is a handy guide to handling these situations.

  1. Get back up help. This can mean having a co-worker with you and/or calling a supervisor.  I have even had help from a regular patron.  (Think of this as “two heads are better than one.”)
  2. Assess the situation.  If there are harsh words being spoken, a crying child, or someone who looks ill, it will be necessary to intervene by asking, “Is there a problem?  What is going on?” Use neutral language and project authority.
  3. Make a decision and follow through. Use your own judgment about the gravity of a situation. If you even think “maybe we should call the police,” call them.  However, do not sound indecisive in front of others, especially patrons.
  4. Write an incident report as soon as possible. Use neutral language and stick to the facts. If you don’t know the names of the people involved describe as much as you can remember. It is important to inform all staff of this incident.  Any unique or unusual situation (regardless of the outcome) is an opportunity to discuss and prepare for the next unusual situation.

So what about my problem situations presented above?  Here is what happened:

One man complained that the man next to him was making noise at the computer.  Things escalated and quickly turned physical with a shoving match.  The librarian spoke in a loud and authoritative tone and told the men to sit down at different computer chairs in different parts of the room, and told them to be quiet.  I believe she also shamed them a bit for making a scene.  Both men calmed down and there was no further incident.  What was helpful in this situation is that both patrons were regulars and knew the librarian, which gave her more confidence to be authoritative with them.

The tutor incident happened to me and I was alone at the reference desk.  (There were a few patrons around.)  The woman approached the reference desk and said that her student had made threatening moves and put his hands on her.  I was calling the police as the perpetrator decided to get into a shoving match with me by snatching the phone.  Immediately, two circulation staffers came running and two patrons that I know came over as well.  The student took off.  Two hours later the sheriff showed up and took statements.

The child left in the library was known to the librarian, and the mother returned about a half hour later.  Of course she had no idea that leaving a child while she ran errands was a bad idea.  Since the librarian knew the parent (and child), she lectured the parent on library safety issues and that staff is instructed to call the police under these circumstances.  Parent, duly ashamed, apologized and there was no further incident.

Library security is an issue that everyone needs to take seriously.  Reviewing policies and procedures frequently will always help next time (and there will always be a next time) a problem shows up in your library.

For more reading on library security:

Black Belt Librarian: Real World Safety and Security
Warren Graham
ISBN 978-0838911372