18 Jan

While the people you with staffing the library matter for your experience of work and can impact your enthusiasm, the patrons are the lynch-pin of your day.  It’s up to them (and you) to determine if your day at work was a success or a failure.

Dealing with people isn’t the easiest thing, ask anyone who has worked in retail.  Thankfully, most patrons don’t come into the library with a superior attitude, or the thought that “my tax dollars pay your salary, so you’d better put me at the top of any queue, priority list, or service order”.  Most are just people who recognize we can help them in one way or another.

There are gems, those patrons that either have no idea what they’re actually asking or who come for help only to tell you how much they don’t need it.  I think of them as “gems” because instead of just getting upset or frustrated, with a little re-structuring mentally, they can be sources of humor that enable you to (silently) shake off a situation with a chuckle.  I know it’s not kosher to admit that we laugh at the things our patrons say and do, but if we do it alone, silently, with no one but ourselves for an audience, I find that it helps us move through the day.

A great example of this is an irate mother, hauling her 6 year old into the library behind her, complaining loudly of a report that’s due tomorrow and who then demands “books for him that have pictures of dinosaurs!”  You try to help, ushering them to the childrens’ section and offering suggestions as to which books are best for dinosaur reference.  All in the line of duty, you think… until the mother comes back, fuming, and berates you because “I wanted books with photos of dinosaurs, not illustrations!!”  You offer books with skeletons and digs in them, but no, “Not dead dinosaurs, live ones!”  After you explain you can’t help her and that no library in your system carries those books, and she storms out vowing never to return, there’s only so much you can do to respond to that.

The response is to laugh.  We might be educated or over-educated/over-qualified for our jobs, but there are situations where there is no reasoning with people and even the best intentions are thrown in your face as examples of your ineptitude.  The old adage is true: there is just no pleasing some people.  What laughing does is de-escalate a problem in your mind until it no longer has the power to make or break your day, and it keeps you in a positive frame of mind regarding your patrons.

Loving your patrons is what the goal is as it helps you perform better, no matter your job function.  I love my patrons.  Even though they don’t always get it and a lot of them expect a large amount of hand-holding, even though they can get grouchy when I don’t hold their hands or spoon-feed answers, they make my job worth doing.  There are “lightbulb moments” when they internalize something I’ve been showing them, when they come back and brag about how well they did on an assignment because the research they did was good, or when they beat odds and just come into the library to hang out.  Those moments let me know I’m actually making a difference, a difference that is no laughing matter.


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