The job is difficult for numerous reasons, but sometimes it all boils down to the fact that certain people can be outright MEAN. This clip from "Ghostbusters II" (one of the greatest sequels of all time and if you disagree, see my previous comment about dueling) rings a little too close to home sometimes. I'm sure any of you other librarians could insert the name of your city and it would still be applicable.
Don't get me wrong, librarians can handle it. Difficult patrons are part of the job, and difficult people in general are part of the charm of living and working in a busy and diverse city like my beloved Brooklyn. To me, providing good customer service is ultimately what being a librarian is all about. You can't choose your customers, but you can choose how you react to them. (And let's be honest, sometimes librarians are the mean ones. Remember this sad graffiti?)
And of course, here's my favorite mean movie librarian:
|This is how I feel when people ask me for the bathroom key.|
The challenge of a difficult patron can be invigorating, but also very trying. I like to face the situation as if I'm a doctor making a diagnosis: what is going on with this person? It's almost never personal, so what is the REAL reason he or she is acting in this manner? And most importantly, what can I do to remedy the situation and have he or she be on his or her merry way??The other day, an elderly-ish woman on a computer waved me over for help. Although I hadn't interacted with her that much as I am usually on the children's desk, I recognized her as being one of the more "unfriendly" patrons - the type of person who thinks that the whole world is plotting against her at all times.
Combine that with the fact that she was in a hurry, had a broken flash drive, needed to revise a cover letter and the fact that she didn't really know how to use a computer in the first place, and we had a DIFFICULT PATRON situation on our hands. Here's a rough depiction of what I saw when I approached her computer:
I calmly tried to guide her in writing the cover letter. I explained each step I took, each cut & paste, each bullet point. She didn't get it. Everything I said was wrong. Everything I did was a source of frustration. She argued, she sighed, she shook her head. "Why does EVERYTHING have to be so difficult?" she finally shouted, throwing her hands up in the air.
Aw. There it was. I know how maddening technology can be when you don't know what you're doing. (Watch me try to use an iPhone sometime. You'd be amazed at the things I click on that shouldn't be clicked on.) But even when I tried to commiserate with her, she was having none of it. To her, I was only trying to make life more difficult. I was one of THEM.
Honestly, I wasn't having the greatest day either, but I didn't want to lose my cool. That would be unlibrarianish of me, after all. Feeling desperate, I decided to break the cardinal rule of not acknowledging a patron's personal information during a reference transaction. I pointed to her resume on the computer screen, saying "Hey, my name is Rita too."
That was all it took.
Her hands dropped to her lap. Her eyes softened.
"It IS?" She almost smiled.
"Yup!" I replied, showing her my work ID. "There aren't too many of us around, right?"
"That's because we're special," she said, with a hint of what appeared to be wistfulness.
Then, to my surprise, she put her arm around me and said "You're such a nice person." (And this might sound weird, but it almost made me cry because MAN, sometimes you just need someone to be nice to you.)
I don't know what this lady's story is or what life did to her to make her the way she is, but I'm going to try to use this other Rita as inspiration - to be more patient with patrons and loved ones, to have more compassion for people who may be struggling, and to appreciate the nice things that are done for me.
And by God, I am going to learn how to use a damn iPhone.
Be nice to each other.