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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

When patrons misbehave: 10 guidelines

One of the surprisingly popular talks I've been giving (most recently, this morning in Rapid City SD) is about public library policies. I don't focus on particular wording, or even a checklist (although such checklists do exist, like this excellent one from the Colorado State Library). Instead, I focus on the general orientation that boards and staff should take when confronted with the inevitable issue of patrons behaving badly.

Although it will come as a surprise to some, the best response to trouble isn't always to create a new policy so that stern librarians can ensure it never happens again. I propose a set of guidelines, instead. They are:
  1. Begin with general policy guidelines. Start with ALA's Library Bill of Rights, one of our clearest statements of professional purpose.
  2. Use your best judgment. No matter how thorough your policies may be, there will be surprises. Remember the mission and values of the institution, and do your best.
  3. Presume innocence and good intentions. Most people are wonderful.
  4. Treat everyone with respect: eye contact, smile, handshake - but don't touch when they are upset.
  5. Model appropriate behavior: speak quietly and courteously.
  6. Set sensible boundaries and state them clearly when necessary. When wild things happen, sometimes it just never occurs to people that they're out of line. So tell them: "Sir, you are speaking very loudly, and other people are having trouble working."
  7. Know when to make an exception. Most of the time, the rules are reasonable, and people follow them. But sometimes, people are in various kinds of trouble, and holding to the rules is actually bad service. That's why libraries hire smart people: to discern the difference between usual and unusual, and make a good call.
  8. Look out for each other. Buddy up, whether it's to extricate one another from awkward situations (someone monopolyzing or creeping out a librarian) or perilous ones (walking out into dark parking lots).
  9. Holler for help when you need it. When you feel that your safety, or public safety, is threatened, you're not a SWAT team officer or superhero. Call 911. That's just knowing your own boundaries.
  10. Review policies after an incident. Was it a one-off event, or a trend? Every problem doesn't need a policy. Most situations don't. But reviewing an incident while it's fresh helps to clarify what steps might have been taken to make things better.
What policy guidelines would YOU add to the list?

3 comments:

Belly said...

The link to the checklist is forbidden. Any way to get it another way?

James LaRue said...

Sorry about that. I think I fixed it. Should be here:

http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/documents/cdelib/librarydevelopment/publiclibraries/download/pdf/policieschecklist_2012.pdf

Catherine E. Ingram said...

This list is very succinct and well worded. Thank you, C