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    Dealing with non-problem patrons?

    Tonight, I’m on the reference desk for a nice 3 hour stretch.  It’s a Thursday night, so things are pretty slow.  The benefit of a slow night at reference is that it gives me plenty of time to work on the thousand little projects that I often let slip by the wayside.  Three hours of peace, quiet, and diligent work.

    Now if it only weren’t for the patrons

    Because the truth is, “slow” doesn’t mean “dead”, and the few patrons that we DO see in here have the psychic ability to know exactly when your brain is fully engaged on a specific problem that will brook no interruptions. That’s when they swiftly descend upon the reference desk with their inane questions and derail your train of thought quicker than a giant gila monster in an MST3K feature.

    [ahem]

    Of course, this is what patrons are supposed to do.  It’s business as usual.  They aren’t doing this to annoy you, or to abruptly throw you off your game.  They’re doing this because you’re a librarian, and you’re here to answer their questions.  I know how it feels to be interrupted this way, and I realise that it is a natural human reaction to become annoyed at this.  But in the grand scheme of things, the patron’s idiotic question about the Romans is much more important than whatever Nobel Prize winning project I might happen to be working on.  So when I get interrupted by a clueless student, I suck it up, grin at them, and force myself to treat their question as if Stephen Hawking himself needed my assistance.

    But I get the feeling that this isn’t standard operating procedure for librarians and library staff.

    I’ve met more than my share of surly library workers in my day, and I feel that the angry librarian stereotype might have gotten that way for a reason.  The image of the oh-so-serious, regimented, puritanical old lady behind the desk might have much more truth to it than the stereotype of the sultry, bespectacled, vamp in the tight sweater just waiting to let her hair down from that bun and …

    … I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yes, libraries.

    So how do you roll? I had originally started this post to ask: “Do any of you snap at patrons needing help, or casually dismiss them so that you can focus on more pressing matters?“, but who the hell is going to answer THAT one honestly? So I guess that my question instead is the more nebulous: “How DO you deal with patrons?”. I’m not speaking of “problem patrons”, mind you.  If someone marches up and angrily DEMANDS that you help them, you can be a little snarky. But what about patrons who just have really bad timing? The kind of patron that comes up and asks a simple question which seems at the same time brain-clenchingly stupid and annoyingly complicated.  How do you deal with patrons?

    And if “politely” isn’t remotely related to your answer, then why?

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    One Response

    1. Reminds me of our Boston Public Library and the Simmons College guy there making it out to be a restrictive place only for those worthy of service. We need more library workers that have done other courses of study than library and information studies programs per se.

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