Happy New Year and welcome to the third and final part of my interview with Jessica Rollerson. Today, Jessica will share her tips for dealing with challenging patrons.
Interview with Jessica Rollerson pt. 3
As a specialist in Behavior Management, do you have any tips for dealing with difficult people in the library, either staff members or problem patrons?
When I worked in larger library we had many mentally ill patrons. Many of these people did not appear to have disabilities but presented themselves in a challenging way. One woman in particular was very difficult to please. She always seemed very angry with us and we noticed she was usually using our computers to write letters of complaint to one senator or another. I offered to work with her whenever she came in and I approached her the same way I have asked people I supervised to approach their least favorite clients: love them! If you approach any person as if you absolutely love them and can’t wait to find out more about them, you start putting out fires. Allow yourself to become fascinated by them. Often, they have a story to tell and the service you provide as a librarian is thatyou hear their story. This allows you to better understand what library services they need. This woman had lost her children due to schizophrenia. She was heartbroken and did not
understand why she had lost them. She was writing letters to senators to ask for help. I offered her a word processor away from the busy first floor. This helped her feel less agitated. I then helped her find the phone numbers for some mental health services in our town. Her anger at the library dissolved and she fell in love with us! You never know what the patron needs until you can find a way to listen to them.
What do you feel is the most common behavioral problem in libraries?
Overly nervous librarians! Oh- did you mean the kids? Honestly, whenever I start seeing the behaviors from kids as “problems” I’m already in trouble. That’s my sign that I need a cup of tea and some chocolate! Behaviors from kids are directions for me. When I see kids arguing over a computer it might be a sign that I need more laptops or a better sign-up system. Kids running through the building might be telling me they need a dance party or for me to help them set up their own school where they are the teachers and the stuffed animals are the students. I always try to see behaviors as instructions for me.
What are some tricks you use when you are starting to lose your patience with a difficult young patron?
I am pretty honest with the kids. If I find myself feeling crabby, I tell the kids that. “Andy, I’m actually kind of crabby today and your yelling is really making it worse. Will you help me?” Because I have a good relationship with these kids and they care about me, they tend to try pretty hard to help me just as I help them. Another trick I use is to keep my enemies close. If a kid is having a particularly tough time, I pull them in and invite them to do something with me. Maybe they will help me shelve books, mend a stuffed animal or make a card for their mom. If a child is asking for attention, I give it to them. Finally, I schedule my day so I won’t be trying to answer emails at 2pm when the school children arrive. I know that from 2-4 in the afternoon is my time to be present with my patrons. That way, I’m having fun along with them.
Jessica, thank you so much for your insights! It was so much fun to talk with you 🙂