Unit 7 –Case Studies
Southern Connecticut State University
ILS 561 S 70 Public Libraries
For each of the situations below, answer the question “What would you do?”
In order to gain a better perspective on how libraries handle problem situations, I reviewed the library in which I work’s Information Services Guidelines. They were created in 1975 and updated in 1992. Under Policy VII Complaints about Library Materials, Staff, Service, etc., the guidelines indicate, “concerns always deserve the most careful consideration and sincere efforts towards a reasoned explanation. The person making the complaint should be directed immediately to the Director or Assistant Director.” The Library’s Web site has the Collection Development Policy, the Unattended Child Policy, the Internet and Computer Policy, and the Community Room Rules posted on a Web page within the About Us area. I also researched the Connecticut State Library’s Web site and found the User Conduct Policy which clearly outlines the Library’s expectations of patron behavior. Although the local public library’s guidelines are not well developed, both Libraries empower the staff member to assess the situation and determine if they are comfortable diffusing the situation. If a patron does not act in accordance with Connecticut State Library’s User Conduct Policy, they risk losing library privileges or expulsion. Most importantly, if any staff member feels their personal safety, or the safety of anyone in the building, will be compromised the individual is not to engage the patron but call the police or security personnel.
It is midmorning. You are working at a desk near the checkout when you hear the security alarm sound. You look up and see a woman exiting the checkout gate.
Often times the de-magnetization process doesn’t work or the patron walks quickly through the gate and trips the alarm. The library in which I work’s policy is to rule in favor the patron and waive patrons through the check out gate if the alarm beeps. Based on this philosophy, I would allow the patron to pass especially as traffic can be heavy mid-morning making it difficult to track a patron’s movements. On the rare occasion that I was suspicious of a patron taking material, I would kindly say that we have been having problems with the demagnetization machine and would the patron please come to the circulation desk so we can re-swipe their materials. If the patron becomes defensive or belligerent, I would apologize for the inconvenience and encourage the patron to comply as it is library protocol that materials are de-magnetized in the public library. According to the Connecticut State Library’s Use policy, all patrons are encouraged to be prepared to have to show materials have been properly checked out. This clear policy gives an employee a stronger position from which to deal with the situation. In my limited experience in a public library, if the gate beeps, I have experienced patrons willingly stopping and verifying with Circulation if their selections have to be re-swiped.
You are working alone and trying to help a patron find information, but you are not having any success. The patron becomes verbally abusive, shouts obscenities, and threatens your well-being.
I would lower my voice and apologize to the patron that we were unable to locate the information while slowly backing way from the patron into clear area. I would remain calm, not interrupt, and use active listening techniques to try to diffuse the situation. Although I wouldn’t want to upset other patrons, I will bring the two of us out in the open so that I can have freedom to move and a clear escape route if the discussion becomes physical. If the patron does not calm down, I would tell the patron that I am feeling threatened by their voice and actions so please stop and leave the building or I will call the police Hopefully, other patrons will see the situation and call security or the police. If not I will try to get near a telephone so that I can dial emergency for assistance.
Although all libraries may not have well defined situational polices, there are some things a library can do to empower their staff. The managers can define a philosophy of how to handle difficult situations such as: does the library want part time people addressing problems situation? Only management? Or only the Manager on Duty? Is there an incident report form? Who competes and where does it go afterwards? Based on these discussions, management prepares a User Conduct Policy similar to Connecticut State Library’s and presents it to the Board of Directors for approval. Also, management writes guidelines for the staff to refer to when there is an emergency. Once completed, all departments and different levels attend on-going training sessions to teach the staff to always listen carefully and put themselves in the patron's place, and make sure everyone is trained to deal with difficult patrons. The library director can cultivate a good working relationship with the police and emergency services departments. By preparing for the unexpected, management empowers the staff to feel comfortable making decisions.