Hating Our Patrons

It may come as a surprise, but not everyone that visits the library is a sweet darling.  Some patrons are slightly unsavory and some are even real jerks.

There’s this Tumblr called Librarian Shaming, and on it some of the anonymous contributors have admitted to their dislike or even hatred of their patrons.  Some other people who blog think that all this negativity is bad, especially for The Librarian Image.  Some people take The Librarian Image very seriously.  Then one person contributed to Librarian Shaming, saying that all the librarians who hate their patrons should just feel lucky because all this person wanted to do was love and cherish patrons but she couldn’t because there were no jobs – they must have all been taken by patron-hating librarians.

I remember in my first few months as a real librarian, some more seasoned librarians were commenting on my enthusiasm.  “How long does that last?” one aked the other, “five years?”

I’ve certainly seen at least a generous handful of burned out librarians. There are grizzled veterans, who greet patrons with the dry eyed lizard stare and make extensive use of silent pointing.  You may think that older librarians might be less tech-savvy.  This is simply untrue of the burned out social butterfly librarian, for whom helping patrons never gets in the way of quality time with FaceBook.

Consider also that some of the contributors to librarian shaming may not be librarians at all.  I’ve seen a lot of patron-hating and curmudgeonly behavior from *some* (not all, not a majority) pages, aides, and LAs.  I think it’s understandable. Think about some of the differences between librarians and support staff.  Librarians choose librarianship. They actually go out and earn a degree. They deliberately and purposefully choose a job that seeks to help patrons.  It may be minimal, but they should have at least some theoretical familiarity with the ideals behind service to patrons.  Support staff may fall into libraries.  They haven’t spent time and money on an expensive educational investment that reinforces their commitment to libraries and patron service.  And they may be on the front lines with patrons nearly constantly.  It’s kind of amazing that the are so many awesome support services workers, if you think about it, when there are so many reasons to be an unhappy chappy.

Because here’s the thing with customer service.  It can be kind of soul killing.  For reals.  It is service.  It is sublimating your needs in order to meet other people’s.  It is helping people who aren’t necessarily lifting a finger to help you.  It’s being nice to mean people, polite to rude people, and solicitous to the mentally deranged.  You can get a lot out of providing excellent service. It can be very rewarding to turn someone’s day around, or to be utterly charmed by a stranger.  But it can also suck the life force out of your juicy body like nothing else.

No matter who you are, it can get you down.  There is no shame in admitting that.  This is why librarianship, or working as support staff in a library, is work.  You have to give good customer service, even if you don’t really feel like it.

In fact, I think it’s important that we DO admit that sometimes it just really motherfluffing sucks.  Because then we can work on ways to create better service for ourselves and for our patrons.  We can examine our service strategies, and take care to keep ourselves professionally juiced. We have to admit that service can be problematic in order to engage in problem solving to improve service.

And we don’t have to hide that behind a curtain.  We can be real people and maybe even laugh about it.  I guarantee no one is taking librarian shaming as seriously as librarians.

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