This isn't a reference question, but it is something desk staff face on a daily basis.
The clip below comes from an episode of Family Guy from a few weeks ago - initially I cringed at negatively portraying public libraries, but then I realized just how amazingly accurate it was. The librarian could be nicer though:
I'm sure every library has its "regulars," but I was struck by how well the writers captured a typical interaction - how, no matter what, it's almost impossible for staff to extricate themselves. Now that is a skill I would love to learn.
I've asked if we could have some kind of button installed under the desk that would just make the phone ring, so we could use that as a reason to break off the aimless and never-ending conversations. No progress yet on a button, so I need to come up with other ideas.
Instead of a reference question this week, I wanted to highlight something else from NELA2010.
In the Trends in Reference session, Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library discussed the overall trend of reference questions in general - that there are fewer of them, but the questions we do get asked are harder and less traditional.
This is due to people turning to the internet to answer the easy factual questions, but still coming to us with the tough ones that require assistance or instruction. Her slide below listed a few example questions she's gotten in Worcester:
I'm sorry the photo is tough to read - the questions are:
How do I activate my iPhone on a library computer? Can I download this mp3 to my iPod from a library computer?
My laptop cannot connect to the library's wireless. Can you help?
Which e-reader should I buy to download the library's ebooks?
I bought Barnes & Noble Nook and would like to download the library's ebooks to it. Can you help?
Could you recommend and create a booklist on China, its history and culture to my group? I would like to know if the books on the booklist are available at the library.
I got this letter telling me to come to the library to obtain this document...(e-government info)
I am looking for work and would like to know how to set up a LinkedIn account.
Many more questions are asked my job seekers: people need help to find a job, fill out an online application, write a resume and cover letter... (Many of them have no computer skills, no email account, no English skills...)
Her question to us was, if you were asked these, how would you answer them?
Most of the libraries represented in the room had at least one person on staff who is the go-to person for "techie questions." But is that good enough anymore? Do you feel the questions above are beyond the scope of reference work, or are you of the opinion that modern reference staff should have the knowledge and training to answer modern reference questions?
So that's the challenge for this week - how would you handle these questions if you were asked them by a patron?
Warren Graham teaches how to handle different kinds of difficult patrons, from bad-day-having, irritable, cranky ones to those who may have serious mental health issues and pose a safety risk. Warren will teach you how to:
Inform patrons of rules in a way that will most ensure compliance
Say "no” in the most effective way
Recognize levels of emotion that a patron may have and identify strategies for responding
Control your work environment
Speaker: Warren Graham, is a nationally recognized trainer and consultant, with 17 years experience as the Security and Safety Manager for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. He is the author of Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarian's Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace.
The essential elements of library security
Three most important things
Some people feel it is wrong to deny anyone access to a library and its collection, including disruptive patrons. However, by allowing disruptive behavior, you are denying free and comfortable access to the patrons around that disruptive patron
The inmates should not run the asylum (you should be in charge of the library environment)
Librarians deserve respect, and staff should not take abuse from uncivil patrons
Patrons get themselves ejected from the library - the responsibility for acceptable behavior is on the patron. The baseline is that we have rules for library use, people need to follow those rules, or else they can't use the library.
How to make this work (and not get sued or yelled at):
An enforcement policy needs to be simple. Patrons need to know it, but staff needs to be able to follow it in a crisis situation
Everyone needs to be trained
Policies need to be fair, and should accommodate what patrons what to do. Give patrons lattitude, but be clear in the gray areas
Treat everyone the same. Kids should not have a different set of rules from the adults
Any library environment can be controlled. Must haves:
Library must have rules (and it should be simple - don't need to have everything written down, ie - don't need a "no prostitution" rule). All you need is a rule that says "No disruptive behavior" and let the activity and behavior - and how it affects other patrons - draw the line.
A word on "Welcoming Rules" - which sign works better:
No cell phones allowed (with cell phone inside of a red-slash-circle)
Welcome to the library, for everyone's comfort, please do not use your cell phone in the library
The first one works better - people just need to know the information. It is clear and concise.
Rules must have enforcement guidelines. If you don't allow sleeping, how many times do you wake someone up before some consequence kicks in. Do they get five warnings before they're kicked out? No warnings? What if you are kicking out the same patron every day? Do they get banned for six months? Staff must be consistent - and they must be backed-up by library management.
When you enforce rules, everyone needs to be treated based on activity, not appearance. Staff need to be careful of language - patrons can hear what they say, so don't refer to patrons with negative or disparaging language
We must be consistent in rule enforcement. Patrons need to get the same story and treatment from all staff. If you don't allow something, never allow it.
Staff need to understand that safety is up to them - not security staff or cameras - and they need to increase their own environmental awareness. Follow 30-30-30: for the next 30 days, stop every 30 minutes, and look around for 30 seconds. Where are you, what can you see, what is happening?
Must have a way to document problems, so trends can be used to justify budgets.
Have an incident report - be simple, accurate and quick: what happened, why you responded the way you did
Use a notebook to record number of times you correct patrons' behavior
Keep a Potential Problem Log: at top of each page, write the patron's name (or accurate [and clean, non-offensive] description) and behavior. On the rest of the sheet, keep track of the date and staff person who have addressed this problem. This helps to follow-up on suspicions, and also keeps staff communicating about the work environment
Have staff training. And then, hold staff accountable.
Have a good relationship with local Police. Make sure they know you have procedures that you follow, and when you call them, you really need them. Also, have contacts at schools, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other community services.
Most libraries need a fundamental camera system - at least who is coming and going through the door (to see if someone walks out with a child, to record someone's image getting thrown out)
You have to have the right managers in the right positions. You cannot have too-passive managers in a branch with problems. At the same time, managers at the top cannot lose touch with what's going on on the front line service desks
Have a periodic review of policies and procedures, and change them when necessary - and they will need changes from time to time. You can look to other libraries for examples, but no two libraries are the same - location and clientele make a bit difference
For everyone to remain safe, there has to be adequate staffing. No one can ever work alone anymore. If you have security staff, they should be library employees rather than contractors - they will be better trained and more accountable, and understand that library security is totally unique. Security staff should look like an authority figure (with a uniform that fits) and professional, and should be trained in self-defense
libraries that require patrons to log into a computer with a library card and have a time limit
libraries that require patrons to be doing something library-related while in the library
...have fewer problems that those that don't.
How to (safely) approach a stranger and get them to comply with policy
Things to remember when telling someone they can't do something in the library (no matter what they're doing wrong)
Approach people with a confident frame of mind. Know your policy, the patron is in the wrong, and you're doing your job by enforcing the policy
Start off nice with patrons, and then get tougher - you can't do this in the other direction. A good way to open the conversation is, "I know you didn't see the sign, but..." You're not there to assign blame, just correct a behavior, and this gives them an out. Also, don't apologize for yourself or for policies - the rule is there for a reason, and apologizing makes it sound like you don't believe in the policy and opens the issue up for debate
Exercise a prudent caution when you approach people - you cannot judge people by their appearance or the situation. It is smart to keep an obstacle (desk, chair, something) between you and an upset patron. Always maintain personal space (your arm's length is the rule), and you never need to touch someone unless you are defending yourself or a child. Never tell someone "no" and then turn your back.
Be ready to be accused of bias, discrimination, or profiling. The patron may have been a victim of bias before, but chances are they are trying to throw you off and get away from the issue at hand. Be confident and follow through, because if you treat everyone the same and follow library policies, you have nothing to fear
Teens are a different case. How to tell a kid "no"
Remember most kids are good kids - they just don't know how to act in a library. It is okay to tell them no and give them boundaries (kids get this everywhere else, especially school)
Appearances mean nothing with kids - they follow fad fashions
What kids can do depends on the physical teen space in the library
Many problems are caused by staff's dislike of kids
It is good to know the kids' names, but it's hard (perhaps the school can supply a yearbook to put faces to names)
Don't give the kids free reign - at least acknowledge them like you would any other patron
If necessary, ask them to leave like anyone else
How to approach a sleeping patron:
Keep the table between you and them
Speak in a soft tone a voice
Approach them as if there is a health concern (you don't know if they're in a diabetic coma, passed out, etc.)
Do not touch them, but lightly knocking on the table is okay
Inform them that sleeping is not allowed, or that their snoring is disruptive (or follow your library policy)
If you cannot wake the person, call 911
5 Questions to ask yourself (and to think about while interviewing people)
Am I passive or aggressive by nature?
Am I emotional or a thinker by nature?
Am I introverted or extroverted?
Do I like people? (if your answer is no, you can still work with the public, but you need to know this)
Do I like my job? (people do get burned out)
Never go outside with a behavior problem, and don't chase people into the parking lot
Try not to get emotional with these problems (know who you are, and your ego - ego can be more dangerous than anger)
Before you take action against someone, be sure you have the right person
Question and Answers
What do you do when a patron tries to pick up a staff person or gives them too much attention?
Ask the staff person if they feel comfortable telling the patron they're not interested. If not, the manager must say to the patron, "I know you're not aware you're doing this, but you're making [staff person] uncomfortable, and it's keeping her from doing her job." It is then up to the patron to respond, and it needs to be according to acceptable behavior.
At what point do you call the police?
If a patron refuses to leave, or is acting erratically. It is up to you to decide how comfortable you are handling the situation.
What are some techniques to maintain psychic distance from a patron who is always a problem and just their presence puts staff on edge?
The butterflies you feel when you see people like that is a natural fight-or-flight response. When that kicks in, you can tap into mental reserves that you normally don't use. If you can hone in on that extra mental capacity, you will be able to figure what to do in that situation.
Do teens always test their limits, and how do you treat them the same as everyone else?
Teens acting out are often covering up some feeling of inadequacy, so they do deserve an extra warning or two. But if they turn around and be disruptive or aggressive, they should face the same consequences as anyone else. They can have three warnings, unless they're too disruptive and don't deserve it or you can't afford it.
How do you handle kids who scatter to avoid being talked to?
You have to find each one of them and talk to them. And when kicking some one out, they should get kicked out for one day, 30 days, six months. Having too many levels of banishment confuses people.
What about patrons who deny they've done the behavior?
If you know that they've done it, that's good enough for the library. Denial is their tactic to derail you.