Found on a Listserv

Kevin King —  July 28, 2016 — 2 Comments

Posted recently on a listserv:

I’m looking for any resources that help library staff deal with disengaging from patron conversations or finding an appropriate exit point when a conversation is difficult to end.

My response:

How about simply stating, “I would really love to chat with you some more, but I need to get back to work.” In my experience, staff are reluctant to disengage from needy patrons for fear of looking rude. Devoting too much time to one patron at the risk of not attending to another patron’s needs or work that helps all the community is actually rude.

Most of the time this comes down to discussing best tactics with staff and trusting that the staff can manage a difficult customer service interaction. Also remember that each interaction will be different, so it is best to devise plans that will work for different interactions.

Finally, if your staff is reluctant to being proactive then remind them that a key component to working at a public library is the PUBLIC. If you are uncomfortable working with ALL members of the public, then look for another job.

Any other wisdom to share?

Kevin King


Kevin King is the Head of Branch and Circulation Services at the Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library. Previously Kevin led Teen Services at KPL, where he helped build a nationally recognized program. Kevin has presented all over the country on many topics including teen services, innovation, graphic novels, and programming. As a member of ALA, YALSA, PLA and the Michigan Library Association, Kevin has served on various committees and has luckily won a couple of awards. In his spare time Kevin obsesses over the Detroit Tigers, listens to music and does his best to be a kick ass dad to Abigail and Rachael.

2 responses to Found on a Listserv


    In the school library environment, there are always a few needy students who want to talk a lot and need positive adult attention. I try to give them a few minutes and some smiles and then use your example, “I need to get ready for the class that is coming in next,” or whatever. Sometimes, though, I suggest a project that they can help with. They either accept and enjoy working near me and helping out, or make themselves scarce to avoid the work.


    When we have specific patrons who are known to love to talk, other staff sometimes come out and say there’s a phone call for the staff member, the boss has a question, etc. It gives the engaged staff member the option to break off the discussion with no hurt feelings. Awareness by other staff is the best tool I’ve found.

    If that’s not feasible, another option is for the staff member to offer to engage more deeply at another time, or have a supervisor engage. Often, the patron will back off at that point, but sometimes it elevates the issue to what would be the proper level anyway.

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