Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to make the most of your library experience: Don't piss off the librarian

I don't usually think of my job as a "customer service" job. It is, and I do know that, but tucked away in our little corner of the University, most people don't even realize we exist. The people who do know about us are generally so happy that we exist, and use our resources so much, that they love us. Consequently, I avoid roughly 95% of all "customer service" related bullshit. In over four years of working here, I've only had to deal with a handful of truly rude or annoying patrons.
Which is not to say that I don't have problem patrons. It's just not the major problems that other places have. We get the little annoyances, the things that people without severe mental or emotional problems (I've had to deal with a few of those) bring to the library without seeming to realize it. Pretty much anyone who's going to read this will, I assume, be smart enough to know not to go to the library drunk. Most people will understand that, while looking at porn on a library computer is not technically illegal, it is gross. Doing more than just watching said porn, however, is completely illegal. (That doesn't stop people from doing it.) There are serious, gross, and flat-out creepy problems which librarians have to deal with and which most people don't even think of. Several of our librarians had to go on a hunt for whoever was downloading and printing pictures of child porn. When they called police and caught the guy, it turned out that he had an outstanding warrant on a charge of child molestation. Lovely, right? This didn't even occur at a public library. This was a University library. Public librarians have it so, so much worse.
There are entire meetings I've been to discussing the porn policy (where does the line get drawn between legitimate research--there are a few classes which could/do require students to look at what would otherwise be questionable material, and not all students have personal computers--and someone just getting their jollies watching porn in public?) or discussing what to do if someone's passed out. Are they drunk, or could it be a serious medical condition making them appear so? Where do these lines get drawn?
What I'm talking about are not the gray areas. These are things which people should know how to do, and just don't. These are the things which piss me off. Give me ten people with mental illnesses over one person who comes to me with a combative attitude, acting like I'm their servant.
To be clear, I am not, strictly speaking, a librarian. I haven't gotten my MLS (master's of library science) degree. I'm just a lowly library technician. A staff person. However, I sit at the front circulation desk. Our librarian handles the major issues, while my coworker and I handle the day-to-day running of our little demesne, including dealing with the patrons. Even better, mine is the first desk people get to when they need to speak to someone. So when we do get a lousy, annoying, or just plain rude patron, they come to me first.
So here are just a few problems that I've had over the years, and why they are problems.

1. It's such a simple thing, but push in your chairs. Seriously, you should have learned how to do this in kindergarten. I don't understand it, but very few people actual feel that they need to bother pushing in their chairs at the library. Consequently, they block aisles and create a less welcoming atmosphere for everyone. Every time I get up from my desk I end up walking around pushing in chairs that people have left strewn everywhere. It's annoying.

2. Don't be rude to your fellow patrons. I'm not talking about outright rudeness, here, (which is a huge problem but also falls under the heading of "I'm sure if you're reading this, you already know not to do these things" category outlined above) but about small rudenesses. Don't chat loudly on your cell phone. Don't take up lots of space because you can, spreading your bag, coat, laptop, etc., all around over several different desks, chairs, or tables. Someone else might need that space. Someone else might want to get through that aisle. Don't be a dick.

3. Don't whine about how hard you've got it and why that exempts you from the rules. Seriously. This is probably the most common type of complaint we get. One woman is so infamous for it that we groan when she comes in. My favorite is her complaint, "But I have children." This excuse has been used for everything from why she can't turn in any book on time to why we're jerks for sending an ILL book back to the library which owns it before she could pick it up, even though she had a month in which to come pick it up before it was due. Congrats on your fertility, lady! That doesn't exempt you from library rules. You are not special. Your failure to plan ahead is not our fault, so don't try to make it our problem. We will not sympathize.

4. Read the signs we have posted. They're posted for a reason. It amazes me how many people come into the library and just...don't read things. We have pretty much all of our rules posted somewhere or another. We've got signs up everywhere in an effort to show people where things are. We definitely have patrons who never need to interact with us unless they're checking out items, because they've actually read the signs. Then there are the patrons who won't even read the colorful sign I have posted on the front of my desk, and get pouty when I point it out to them. It's a sign asking people to stand in front of my desk, rather than coming around to stand by my side, both because it's creepy when they invade my space and, more importantly, for privacy issues. Speaking of privacy issues....

5. Don't assume that we're keeping things from you to be jerks. There are an amazing number of legal issues surrounding libraries and the information we have access to. We have an incredible amount of personal information about people in our database: names, phone numbers, addresses--all to get in touch with people when we need to, but still personal info--and since we're a University, ID #s which can access all kinds of other personal scholarly information, such as transcripts. Not to mention, information on what books people have checked out (yes, that information is legally protected). People are always shocked and generally a little pissed off when I can't do something for them which would infringe on someone else's library information. We had a woman in the other day asking if her husband had checked out a book. When I told her that I couldn't legally answer that question she said, "But he's my husband!" Sure. But you don't have proof of that, and even if you did I still wouldn't be able to tell you because there are laws protecting that information. Yes, even from spouses.
We also have patrons asking to check out books that are on hold for other people, on the other person's behalf. We can't let you do that for a variety of reasons, including those pesky privacy laws again. I realize it can be inconvenient, but you're not only asking me to break library rules for you, you're asking me to break the law.

6. Don't, for the love of all things holy, assume that we will do all of your work for you. The one thing I see most commonly, and which drives me craziest, are the people who walk up to my desk first thing and say, "Where do I find this?" My first question for them is, "Have you tried looking in the catalog?" Half the time they say no, and I mentally categorize them (fairly or not) as lazy. Sometimes, I do realize, it's a matter of telling them how to get access to the catalog. (It's online, just like everything else these days.) But I actually had one conversation go like this:
Me: Did you look in the catalog?
Patron: No.
Me: Well, you can look it up in the online library catalog from any of those computers over there. It will be the homepage, so it's really easy.
Patron: But I wanted you to do it.
Me: ...But I'm showing you how to do it, so that you don't need to come and ask me every time you want to look up a book.
Patron: Yeah, I still want you to do it for me.
At this point, I was super annoyed and wanted to tell this guy, "Go fuck off, it's not my job to coddle you and enable your laziness." Of course, I couldn't say that. I ended up looking up the book for him, but I did let my annoyance show through. It would have taken this guy less time to look it up himself than he spent arguing with me about who should look it up. I got the impression that he was being a douche because he could, and because he thought it should be my job to cater to him. That is not, ever, the purpose of a librarian. Yes, we're here to help. But using a library correctly is not difficult, and it is a skill that all people should learn. When you don't bother to try learning, you're not going to get the most helpful service.

7. Don't ever think that you know more about the library's resources than the library worker you're talking to. This one happened just this morning, as it turns out. The very first thing I had to deal with when I got to work was an angry phone call from someone who was pissed that he couldn't find the information he needed. I realized pretty quickly that he was looking in the wrong place on the website but every time I tried to explain how to get to the information he needed he swore he was looking at the place I wanted to navigate him to and would rant for a bit about how awful our website is. ("When I type in the title of this journal, it's not even the first thing that comes up! It's, like the seventh, and that's just crazy." I wanted to ask if he'd ever used a database before, and if he understood how they work. Do you always accept your first Google hit?) If he'd have shut up for 30 seconds, it would have been a much faster and more pleasant conversation. As it was, I had to endure several minutes of him talking about how horrible our website is, and by extension the library and everyone who works here. Not productive, dude. I finally got him to listen to me, explained a few things to him, and then how to get what he wanted. All the while, I had to endure more verbal abuse about how bad our service is. Thanks. Once again, if you're willing to learn then I'm willing to teach you. If you're not willing to learn how to use the library resources properly, then there's really nothing I can do for you. You're going to have a bad time, and it's going to be all your fault. I just can't say it that way to you.

8. Don't lie to us. It's pure stupidity on your part to assume that we can't see through your lies. Just because we don't call you on them every time doesn't mean that we believe you. The third time you come in with some lame and generally convoluted story about why you can't turn in something on time, I'm not going to be happy with you and I will let it show. Because the why isn't actually my problem. You checked out the item, and by doing so you need to understand that....

9. Checking out a library item is sort of like signing a contract. You agree to borrow it for a certain amount of time, and we should have a reasonable expectation that you will bring it back at least close to the time it's due. We explain when an item might have a fine attached to it so that you know beforehand. And usually, we're pretty nice. We'll waive fees all the time, knowing that a) students are poor and b) life happens. But when it's a consistent problem on your end, then expect the library to have a problem with you. You are not the only person in the world, nor are you the only person who might want to borrow the item you've taken out. We have rules about borrowing periods for a reason. If you're not following them, that's your fault. You knew what you were getting into when you checked the item out.

10. Understand that we have lives outside of the library. When I tell you that the library is closing, I mean that it's closing. I have a home and a family to get back to, and you're infringing on that. When I say "we're closed", I don't mean 15 minutes from now, I mean now. The fact that you didn't get all of your online shopping done before the library closed is not my problem, but you're making it mine. And I'm not being a douche for saying that I'll call security to have them escort you out, I'm trying to let you understand what a douche you're being to me. Once again, we have our hours signs posted all over the place. If you ask, we'll tell you when we close. I go around the library before closing to let people know, hey, we're closing up soon. It is not a surprise, and once again you don't get to be the special exempted person for whom the rules don't apply. You're just being an ass. Now get the fuck out of my library and let me go home.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic. I am snorting with laughter at my desk. I'm pretty sure there's a circle of Hell where people constantly come up to you asking for books they've already checked out, have refused to return, and it's a few minutes past closing.