Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Revisiting Difficult Patrons


I've discussed difficult patrons in the past, but in that post I was talking about people who are awkward or emotionally overwrought or out-of-sorts. My context then, as it is now, was an academic library. The advice I'm about to give might not apply in other kinds of libraries. Heck, it might be expressly against the rules, so check with your boss(es) before you do anything I've suggested.

Before I get into my advice, though, I want to tell you a couple of stories about difficult patrons I've had in the past, over the course of my career. Also, and this may go without saying but I'd rather be upfront about it, I've changed and/or left out personally identifiable details where possible.

Up first, the sportsball team. I've actually had similar interactions with football, basketball, and soccer teams, so saying "sportsball" is as much about protecting identities as it is about an umbrella term to capture the experience. If you've worked on an academic campus with a popular sports team, you can probably predict what I'm going to say. The athletes came into the library on a regular basis. Study hours are frequently a required thing for student athletes - after all, student is the first and more important part of that phrase - and the library and/or tutoring center is a good place for this to happen. Only problem with this is that they didn't always have work to do even though they always had to do the hours. With nothing else to do, they talked. They got loud. They collected people the way an electromagnet collects spare paperclips.

This led to:
  • Discussions and reminders that if they wanted to talk, there are other parts of the library available where that wouldn't disturb others. Verdict: completely unsuccessful. Had to do this repeatedly throughout the same evening or afternoon.
  • Sending a staff member who read as male to have the same conversations. Verdict: more successful than when I did it, but still not a true solution.
  • Jokes about, "don't make me call your coach." Verdict: this would usually quiet them for the rest of the time period - afternoon, evening, etc. - but it wasn't a permanent thing.
  • After a particularly difficult day, when even sending a male staff member only quieted them for 5 minutes, actually contacting their coach. Verdict: this was a permanent solution. Getting to this point was kind of a nuclear option, but we'd gotten repeated complaints from other students and hadn't found anything else that worked.

Up next, the angry teaching assistant. I'll tell you up front that it turned out to be a miscommunication between the professor and their teaching assistant - a minor one, at that. The TA came to the front desk of the library, and I'm not sure how the conversation started, but I was walking by and overheard this individual getting aggressive, so I inserted myself.

This led to:
  • "Is there something I can help with?" This is how I insert myself when I sense a tense situation anywhere in my library. Verdict: successful in that it brought the TA's attention off of the (if memory serves) student worker and onto the full-time staff member.
  • A lot of back and forth with the TA where I tried to pin down exactly what it was they wanted, to inform them it was not something the library did, and to suggest another department at that school that would be able to fulfill that need. Verdict: very unsuccessful. Even though I remained calm, used open body language, and stayed on topic, the TA got increasingly agitated and even started cursing at me about things.
  • "I won't talk with you unless you can be civil. And if you can't be civil, I'll also have to ask you to leave the library." The TA walked off in a huff. I would have called security, but I didn't need to go that far. Verdict: Very successful. The TA came back later to apologize and explain the miscommunication. Please note I might not have been this direct if I hadn't already known the TA.

Finally, the community member. I've worked at multiple libraries that allowed computers to be used by people who aren't attached to the school in any way other than they live in the same municipality. In this case, the difficulty was not as overt as either of the two cases above. This person was having difficulties with a particular thing on our network, and they weren't satisfied with the speed at which our IT department was addressing the issue so they asked to speak directly to me, the director.

This led to:
  • Vague threats about appealing to someone above me. I responded by making my own vague threats about changing the policy that gave this patron access to our space and resources. Verdict: partially successful. I needed to let this person know that I cannot be bullied, and this was the first step.
  • Walking away as soon as the initial conversation was over. I gave this person's concern attention, but not a single drop more than was warranted. Verdict: partially successful. Sometimes these kinds of things end up being attention seeking behaviors, and I didn't want to feed into that.
  • Communicating with appropriate staff both in and out of the library. Of special importance was that I spoke with my boss, since she was one of the people the patron had threatened to contact. Also of importance was that I brought security into the loop. Verdict: very successful. I took these steps mostly to help my own piece of mind. 
  • Documenting everything. If this person escalates, I need to have a paper trail to support the need to have this person banned from campus. Verdict: very successful.

In each of these interactions, I took responsibility for what was happening. As the director, it's my job to deal with the angriest of the patrons, but you won't always have someone higher up around to help. Common themes from each of these incidents:
  • I did my best to diffuse without backing down.
  • I had and was willing to fall back on contingency plans. 
  • I never took it personally, even though in each instance there was definitely a moment of the difficult patron making some sort of personal insult/attack.

Sure, each situation is different, but you have to have a way to approach difficult patrons. How about you? Have you had any difficult patrons? Had to anyone banned from your library?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Forget About Professional Development (For Now), by Sally Turbitt

Two words: Professional development. Talk of professional development starts in library school, with LIS students encouraged to volunteer at conferences, attend local events and generally “get involved” to accrue professional development points or hours. Maybe your workplace gives you opportunities to attend events on the proviso you come back to work and share your learnings. Or perhaps, like me, you realise that professional development activities are a way to learn and meet people in the industry, something that is really useful if you’re a library ‘outsider’ (e.g. not working in libraries).

Where do you start? How do you find the right activities and opportunities for you? You’ve got to start by answering, “who?”

A wise person once said “know thyself” and yes, that’s what I’m talking about. We are all, as another wise person once said like an onion, and when you start to peel back your layers and know yourself better, you will be a better professional and it will be easier to find the right professional opportunities that suit you. Plus you might surprise yourself by taking bigger leaps and accepting challenges you would have run away from before.

Knowing yourself is hard and uncomfortable work, BUT, here’s the thing. If you’ve invested heavily like me (financially, personally, emotionally), in going to library school and carving out a new career for yourself, you want to get this right and be a great librarian, advocate for your community and co-worker. You want to be resilient and have the stamina and skills to stay employed right? Many of us work with a huge variety of people every day, and being a resilient and reflective librarian is a good thing! This is why I want to encourage you to peel back those layers and find yourself first.

I’m a deeply curious person, always exploring ways to understand myself and others and I like to use a variety of tools to do this. It did take me years to discover those tools and be brave enough to listen to what I discovered. Years ago, I read What Colour is Your Parachute?, took the Myers-Briggs test at a work conference, and went to a career counsellor. I tried to ignore everything I learned, but it didn’t work. Part of me was paying attention and each time I explored something new and uncovered a kernel of truth about myself, an onion layer fell away and I got closer to who I really am.. Acknowledging personal biases, privilege, weaknesses, and figuring out how to celebrate and make the most of your strengths are all challenging. It’s hard to acknowledge who you are and find ways to change and do better at living and working.

As an ENFP, I am always willing to find solutions, so here are some of my personal tools for digging deeper and being brave. At one point or another each of these has got me through a rough patch and opened up doors to understanding myself and other people.
  • Listen. TED talks, podcasts, online radio shows - there are so many ways to listen and learn. Don’t stick to just library related content, branch out and explore new topics! (An added bonus is that you’ll be absorbing good and bad storytelling - how many times have you heard how about important storytelling is for library advocacy and promotion?)
  • Explore personalities and preferences. Try 16 Personalities, The Four Tendencies or read What Colour is Your Parachute?. You don’t have to agree with all the results, but they will give you some insight that you can explore (or ignore, but really, I bet you find one useful nugget of truth).
  • Ask friends and family what they think. (Awkward yes, useful, YES). You’ll be surprised at what people see in you and it’s more insight for you to reflect upon. Remember that how you see yourself is completely different to how everyone else does.
  • Be really honest with yourself about things you could be better at, and then find ways to improve. Written communication not great? Offer to write a newsletter article at work or start a blog. Jump on Twitter and practice writing in short concise sound-bites. Write book reviews for your library or just your friends. Feel like your tech skills need a refresh? Find out if your organisation or local library has a Lynda.com subscription or ask a colleague you know has great tech skills to show you their tips and tricks.
  • Spend time getting to know the people you work with, and how your personality and behaviours fit (or don’t). Read up on teams and communication. Start a conversation with co-workers or ask your boss if there are any short training courses you can take to expand your knowledge of teamwork and strategic communication.
  • Seek professional help if you need to. Sometimes we need to dig further to find ourselves and a professional counsellor or therapist can help.

Most importantly, discover your “who” your way. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert - there’s a way to do this that will suit you. Just try to extend yourself a little from time to time, try something new, and you could surprise yourself.

So, new librarian, this probably seems like quite a lot of ‘work’. Well, it is. However, you don’t need to do it all right now! Take small, achievable steps, and be kind to yourself and choose topics and activities you enjoy. Spend ten minutes a day reading an article or blog post, ask a colleague to show you how to do something that seems easy to them. Send that email to five close friends asking them that difficult question. Think small, it all adds up.

Find your who and the rest will follow.

Sally is a librarian who doesn't work in a library. Instead she supports library and information professionals for ALIA and co-hosts a podcast about libraries, galleries, museums and archives. Talk to her on Twitter @sallyturbitt.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Still Not Knowing Everything

Since I just closed out my first six months of my not-so-new-anymore job, I figured it was time to revisit the idea of knowing that I don't know - something I wrote about almost exactly 5 years ago as I was about to start my first job as a library administrator. My mind was boggling at all that I had to learn, and the truth is that I hadn't even imagined half of all that there was to know.

This most recent job change was easier in some ways. I made a lot of mistakes as a new library director... mostly dealing with people issues. Learning that I couldn't think aloud anymore was hard. Learning to ask questions in a way that the staff understood it really was just curiosity with no subtext was even harder. Hardest of all was learning to look at the entire context of an issue before trying to come up with a response. So starting my second job as an administrator was smoother because of all my past missteps, but that prior learning hasn't actually made it easy.

Although I'd worked at a two year institution before, I've never worked at a public institution of higher education. Further, although we are relatively small at just under 6000 FTE, this is also the biggest school that has ever employed me. Another big change is the size of the staff - I have 17 people working for me. I have learned a lot a lot a lot, but I'm still adjusting to all of this. And there is still so much more to learn.

Here's a list of what I KNOW I need to do:
  • Experience all the ins and outs of our budget cycle;
  • Sit down with as many of the rest of the faculty as possible;
  • Live through the rest of our strategic planning process and experience its ramifications;
  • Understand all of my responsibilities as they play out through the school year;
  • Get to know all the nuanced (or not so nuanced) differences between working at a small liberal arts college and a small-ish community college.

And that's just the stuff I know that I need to learn. At least once a week I learn something that I had no idea I needed to know, like how we handle email when someone leaves the institution or who to contact when I want to reserve a room in one of our new buildings. We all know, in theory at least, that we never stop learning, but it's so very different to be living it every day of my life. I love it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Just For Fun: Mayonnaise!

I'm going to go against the grain of typical blogs that share recipes. I'm going to give you my main recipe up front (based almost exactly on this one)!

1 cup extra light tasting olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg (size matters)
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Put everything into a container with a mouth wide enough for an immersion blender, but not much wider. You MUST use an immersion blender for this recipe. After everything is in the container, put the blender in, and turn it on high - holding it still - for 30 seconds. You'll be tempted to move it, but don't. After that, move it around and blend the rest of the oil in, for another 30 seconds. Et voilĂ : mayonnaise! There are other methods that call for letting the egg warm up to room temperature or pouring the oil in very slowly, but if you are like me and have no patience but still want homemade mayo, this is the recipe for you.

Now for the chatty bits! I told a couple of friends about making my own mayo now, and they demanded a taste test. With McDonald's french fries. Their idea, not mine, but it ended up working well. Anyway, I rose to the occasion and made four different versions (the one above and the others listed below), but there was no consensus on which was the best. I liked the spicy one the best, but both the original recipe (above) and the dill version got votes as well. We certainly had fun trying them, and I definitely had fun coming up with the different recipes.

Spicy: instead of lemon juice, I put 2 tbsp of original Cholula. You need an acid of some sort in mayo, and hot sauce is made with vinegar. When I tasted the Cholula mayo, though, it didn't have any kind of kick, so I added a tbsp of Frank's RedHot. If I make this again, I'll just go with 2 tbsp of Frank's.

Vinegary: instead of lemon juice, 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. This was also recommended by the person who wrote the recipe I cited above. It's not good for everyday applications, because the vinegar taste comes through super strong, but it's fantastic with potatoes. It'd probably be amazing for potato salad.

Dill: instead of lemon juice, I put 2 tbsp of pickle juice, I also added a small amount of fresh dill - hard to explain how much, other than to tell you I pulled off a couple of inches from the top of the dill I bought. Didn't chop it up, either, since the stick blender did that for me.

Yes, this does use fresh, raw eggs. That means it won't last as long as long as store-bought, but it will last a couple of weeks past the expiration date on the eggs you buy. But I gotta say - it never lasts more than a week for me.

Good luck with this, and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

I Resolve...

Except, I'm not perfect. Really nobody is. I see life as a never-ending quest to better myself, so some of these things listed below have been goals of mine for a while. However, since I'm not completely immune to the culture of the country in which I live (we Americans do love to make resolutions), I thought I'd add a few things to my list. Sharing them with you is a way to hold myself accountable.

So, here we go...

  1. This is a constant goal of mine as a Buddhist, but I resolve a deeper commitment to practicing kindness and compassion. This doesn't mean I'm going to let people walk all over me, because part of this resolution is to be kind and compassionate with myself as well. Also, sometimes the kindest thing is to hold people responsible for their actions. If that means punching a Nazi, so be it. More likely it will voting for people who I believe will help heal this country. Kindness and compassion are, in a way, the wellspring for all my other resolutions.
  2. I'm going to spend more time reading professional literature. This will be difficult, as it means giving myself permission to close my office door so I can concentrate. I want to be available to the library faculty and staff, but we'll all benefit if I gain more knowledge and keep more abreast of what's happening in our field.
  3. Another thing I'm going to spend more time doing is playing with my cats. Yes, I do play with them every day, but sometimes it's only for 5 minutes. I always end up giggling if I can get Zephyr into the game (not always possible, especially when Viktor is going whole hog after the wiggly piece of flannel on a stick), and it's good for them. Letting myself do something just for the fun of it...? Will be good for me.
  4. Something that's been important to me for a while is cooking. I did The Whole 30 back in October and realized I'm sensitive to a whole bunch of foods that I'd been eating every day - lactose intolerance being the most ridiculous of them (ridiculous because how did I not realize it before?). Since then, I've not been 100% Whole 30, but I've been eating fairly paleo. I'm worried I'm going to fall into a rut with my eating, and get bored, so for the last few months I've been trying more new recipes, and will continue that into the new year.
  5. Finally, I just turned 45, so there's no denying I'm middle aged. I definitely need to sleep more.


How about you? Do you believe in New Year's Resolutions? If so, what did you resolve?