Posts filed under ‘Policies’
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.
In Janie’s first post she mentions that the quip, “sharing is the new black” has been rattling around her brain for a few days. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is because it’s beginning to feel like there’s no room left in my brain for anything to rattle. It feels more like that closet upstairs that’s already full, but every time I find some new interesting tchotske at a garage sale I bring it home and stick it in the closet. So now the closet’s full of cool stuff, but I don’t often stop to look at any of it, I just keep finding a little open space to shove in some more.
Library Garden is my place to take some of those ideas I’ve been accumulating and revisit them. Pay them some attention. Show them to my friends and colleagues. Talk about them. And in turn I hope to get turned on to some new ideas and develop a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on my own.
In no particular order here are some ideas/questions that have been stuck up in the old attic:
If you glanced at my bio you know I used to work for Nordstrom. It was one of my first “real” jobs (no funny hat, no dyno labelmaker nametag ), so I didn’t have the perspective to appreciate what a wonderful organization it is. On my first day of work I was handed the “Employee Handbook”. The Handbook is a 5 x 8 inch card that says “welcome to Nordstrom” and then moves on the rules: “Rule #1. Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.”
An employee handbook with one rule? “Use your good judgment in all situations.”? That’s it??? Then the store manager — an actual Nordstrom boy, who worked his way up to Store Manager; like every upper level employee, he had to start at the bottom — tells us we will NEVER get in any trouble for doing ANYTHING as long as we can demonstrate that we were doing it to deliver good service to the customer. OK, now here’s the thing: He really meant it.
Think about that for a minute. One rule, “use your good judgment” (note, they don’t say “best judgment”; they give employees credit for having good judgment right from day one.) One rule, followed by the encouragement to do anything that the low-level, inexperienced employee deems appropriate to give good customer service. That’s employee empowerment, and it’s that foundation of trust that naturally gives rise to the famous Nordstrom culture of customer service.
Now think about the experience of library customers. What is the experience of the customer that walks through your doors (real or virtual.) How different would their experience be if libraries told staff to “go out and give great service”, and meant it, and supported it, and rewarded it. How different? How different would the customer’s experience be if we ditched the rules?
You can guess my answer. My little plea is this: Think like a customer. Try to experience your library from the customer’s point of view. Ask them what you do right and what you could do better, but remember that many of them think your “nice” and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Also their expectations may be rather low… So in addition to talking to them put yourself in their footwear and walk a few laps around your library in their shoes. Ditto for your website. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Try calling your phone system, does it work well? Try renewing a book on that self-checkout machine over in the corner (yes the one with community newspapers piled on top – – and oh yeah, don’t forget to plug it in.) Does it work? Is it optimally placed and signed for customer usage?
I’ll be posting more in the future about library walk-throughs and some of things we’ve been doing in New Jersey to help libraries think about “Library as Place“. In the meantime I welcome you to take a peak at some of the material we generated in 2004 when NJLA chose “Lessons From the Nordstrom Way” as our first “Leading Through Reading” selection (think “What if every library staff member in NJ read the same book?”)
Well, this was going to be a laundry list of ideas (Library 2.0 is next on the list) but time she has run out. Talk to yuz soon.