The Training Not Given…
A post by Cynthia Lambert
In the past I have blogged about what surprised me when I first came to libraries. Many people commented on the drunken patron—an unexpected customer service challenge if ever there was one. One thing I expected, but three years later still have no idea how to deal with, are the mentally ill or chemically altered patrons. I am not alone.
When I get together socially with librarians both new and seasoned, often the talk of customer service turns into laments about the homeless, the mentally ill, drug addicts, and the unwashed. No one it seems has any idea how to properly help and/or deal with these people. Why is that?
A March, 2009 article in Public Libraries gives a list of 10 tips for dealing with the mentally ill, all of which suggest training. In library school—only one class, a class on communication, even touched on the issue of mentally ill people at the library. Of the four libraries I have worked in, not one gave me training, despite mentally ill, homeless, and drug addicted patrons causing problems—some small, some very significant. In fact, at one, most of the staff simply will not deal with the issue. Rules in place against sleeping or pornography are ignored and management explicitly stated that maybe it is best to just let them sleep unless another patron complains.
The San Francisco Public Library is trying something new to deal with the problem. They have hired a full-time social worker. While I think that is fantastic, the reality is that very few libraries have the money to hire adequate library staff these days, let alone getting into the business of health care. So what is there for the rest of us?
Other than a handful of articles, I have found no indication of a training program in place to help library staff identify and deal with the mentally ill or drug addicted. I am sure there are many programs out there, I simply cannot find them. I found programs for educators, for families, for children, for teens, and for law enforcement, but nothing for libraries and library professionals.
The literature I did find is limited, suggests speaking to experts, and provides a list of ‘tips’. Much of what I do know, I have learned informally on the job or from other librarians. (For example, never yell, speak harshly, or seem upset–simply speak in a calm voice, speak clearly and in short sentences, show respect, enforce the rules).
Librarians love training. We love meetings. How many offers of training on Twitter or Facebook have you seen in the past year? Now think about how many you have received for dealing with drug addicts or the mentally ill? How many hours have you spent in endless meetings discussing the best way to support e-books? Now consider how many hours have been spent on dealing with difficult patrons in a safe and effective manner (and get management does not cut it given there lack of availability at night and on weekends).
So I ask you dear readers—please send me your training programs, your tips, your tricks, and your coping strategies for dealing with the mentally ill or drug addicted. It is my goal to create an online professional directory of services, training, tips, and discussion to assist library professionals in dealing with the most needy and most challenging of patrons.
Entry filed under: advocacy, Continuing education, Customer Experience, Demographics, Librarians, Libraries, Policies, Public libraries, Staff development, Uncategorized. Tags: customer service, library training, mental illness.