I was asked recently about how I handle complaints in the library. This is an awkward thing to explain, because - like so much - there is no one policy that addresses all of the problems. I try to be as respectful as possible, but trust me: there are always going to be times when I wish I could send the complainingest patrons off to Notlob or Bolton or wherever.
Honestly, though, I'm still learning how to handle complaints from the administrator perspective. Before this job, if things got bad I could always resort to, "would you like to speak with the director?" Now when someone asks to speak with the director, it's me. I no longer have the relative ease of just passing the buck. That's okay; I've developed a few rules of thumb in the three years I've been a director.
- Have some rules already in place. For example, though I've yet to deal with a book challenge, we have a policy and procedures in place.
- Get familiar with local laws and (if applicable) law enforcement/security personnel. Becoming friends with campus security guards has given me a sense of security for those rare instances when patrons won't listen to reason.
- Be ready to listen. Sometimes all the person needs is to feel heard, and I can do that.
- Keep an open mind. One complaint that came to me through student government was justified - not enough outlets - and easily helped with the addition of some powerstrips in key areas.
- Make promises you can't keep. I've seen people promise any-any-anything to calm someone down. They'll just be angrier later. Guaranteed.
- Bend over backwards for someone who's treating you poorly. I've had multiple people try to intimidate me by cursing and getting loud or trying the cliched "I pay your salary." It never works with me. Ever.
- Get angry back. Calming things down is generally going to be the best road, so yelling or cursing back won't help.
That's what I've got so far, especially when it comes to rules of thumb. Specific situations are a whole other thing. For instance, the faculty member who wanted something that was prohibitively difficult and time consuming? I explained the situation politely, but I said no. But I'm still learning. I'd be grateful if more experienced administrators want to chime in.