Monday, April 02, 2012

Dealing with the Difficult

A short while back I gained my first library job, and while it’s been quite taxing after my original job, I find it suits my desires. Many of the patrons who visit the library are knowledgeable in the sense that they know what they are looking for or know whom to ask to find said item. Though there have been a few patrons who have come in looking for things the library does not provide.

One such patron happened upon my work area while I was in the middle of training with my supervisor. Said patron walked up to us and asked a question of us that in no uncertain terms the library could answer or even attempt to do so. However this patron was adamant that the question be answered to satisfaction.

I took a breath and asked a cautious question of my own. I did not want to brush this patron off, but did not also want to inflame their anger either. I wanted to diffuse a little of the stress I had heard in the original question. Unsatisfied the patron left the library. Belatedly I came to understand I could have handled this situation much better. But it was handled tactfully at the time.

My own personal strategy varies depending on the issue and the patron, but can be summed up as:

1. Take a breath.

  • A few heartbeats are enough to collect your thoughts and form what you wish to say. When taken by surprise it can feel natural to want to immediately say something, but take a moment to form the right response in your head.

2. Answer the question.

  • Refer to your library’s policy or procedures regarding this issue. Don’t attempt to deflect or walk around the patron’s query or statement, this may just make the patron more stressed or angry than they already are.

3. Rely upon coworkers and supervisors.

  • Unless you work alone rely upon those who have more experience than you. It also helps to have another person to help to diffuse a charged situation.


In addition I would like to refer you to this excellent article dealing with problem patrons entitled Problem Situations, Not Problem Patrons, by Steven Slavick.


For a bullet point list please check out MLA2010: Black Belt Librarians: Dealing with Difficult Patrons, by Brian Herzog. Especially the section titled “How to (safely) approach a stranger and get them to comply with policy.”


OCLC WebJunction also has a free recorded Webinar called Dealing with the Difficult Patrons. You can access the recording here. The webinar is about an hour long, but well worth it! For those of you who work alone there is a good part at the 40:56 time mark that deals with your specific situation.

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