Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sticky patrons

No, no, it's not that bad (well, it probably is, but I generally don't touch) - I mean metaphorically! And I'm using the term to avoid saying "difficult patrons" which, to me, always makes me think of recalcitrant children.

This article came out awhile ago. It's about having a library "rescue plan" to deal with difficult patrons in the library: the ones who stick around for conversation and can't be dislodged, the ones who like to complain or antagonise, or the genuinely angry ones.

The author Steven, expresses dismay about an academic library conference session he attended where the speaker was suggesting staff deal with these situations by employing "white lies" to extract themselves. The methods suggested were to have a signal among staff for when they need rescuing, to set up a fictional scenario with a colleague to extract yourself, or to interrupt the patron to tell them that you're sorry, but XYZ is happening and you have to go.

Steven suggested a "more honest and forthright" way to deal with these sticky patrons, perhaps having "a designated person take the patron aside for a private conversation" or "referring the patron to the library user’s code of conduct and indicating that failure to comply could result in being banned from the library."

Let's face it: I think I can safely assume that I deal with sticky patrons more often than the average academic librarian, and I think that both responses are valid, but everything depends on who you are dealing with (this from someone who once tried to reason with a stalker: needless to say, that naive attempt didn't end well, and put my in needless danger).

I tend to employ the rule of "three strikes and you're out" with practically everything in the library, from teenaged hoodlums to well-intentioned sticky adults. On the first two occasions, I will try to reason with someone (or politely excuse myself with a nebulous excuse, in the case of sticky patrons). If I find myself in the same situation a third time, I will remind the person of previous conversations, and outline the reasons why their behaviour is not acceptable.

While I have a lot of empathy for people who are lonely and might want to chat, or who have problems of their own, I also think it's important to set boundaries for both staff and patrons, in order to respect the roles and responsibilities of both parties.

What do you do with sticky patrons?

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