What a mean, mean librarian


On a book website I visit, a person had the following story. I contacted the writer and asked if I could post on LISNEWS. Posting at the other site was titled: What a mean, mean librarian.

I took my niece to the library today to work on a school project. When
we were finished, she asked me about getting a library card. I told
her I couldn't get her one, and that her mom or dad would have to
bring her back to get one. And then I told her they may not be able to
since they just moved to that city and haven't changed their addresses
on their licenses yet, but that i'd ask about that for her. So, I went
up to the librarian and this is how it went:

"Hi, can I ask a question about getting a library card?"

"Is it for you or the girl?"

"Well, it's for "the girl", my niece, Olivia"

"You can't get one for her"

"I know that, but I just had a question"

Well, I was fingering and looking at a library card application on the
counter, so she felt the need to say:

"And don't think about taking that home and filling it out and coming
back with it. I won't take it. Her parents have to bring her in and
fill it out in front of me. That form doesn't leave my counter"

I was so frustrated at this point, that I said,

"Well, sorry for taking up your time. Thank you for that nasty and
unnecessary speech that had nothing to do with my question, and for
also not even taking the opportunity to see what my question was. Oh,
and also thank you for turning what was just a minute ago an exciting
experience for a 9-year old into something completely unpleasant. I
hope you have a fantastic evening." I get sarcastic when I'm mad.

But, leave it to Libby to cheer me up always. As we were walking out,
she says "Aunt Cassie, you wanted to call that lady a bad word didn't
you?". I had to laugh, lol.


I wonder if it was really a librarian. :P

No, but I bet their boss was a librarian. Where does the responsibility ultimately lie? With the subordinate or the supervisor.

At that very moment, responsibility falls with the person providing assistance.

Even if she wasn't a librarian, she was the face of the library at that particular moment. She is a failure and is one of the horrible reasons why the rest of us have to work so hard to counteract the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have. It makes me wonder if every budget maker in the government and school boards had librarians like this. That would certainly explain a lot.

When I hear someone like that use the phrase "the girl" I immediately assume that "and her little dog too" is going to follow.

Front line library clerks deal with the unpleasantries of the library public on a daily basis. Everything from "What do you mean I have a fine? I returned that book ON TIME!" to "I didn't leave that book in the rain! I got the book that way!"

The library is here to serve the patron - but at what point does the patron have to take responsibility?

At what point does society have to take responsibility?

The only thing I see that the patron did incorrectly was not being concise or clear enough. That still isn't wrong or unpleasant by any means. The library worker, whether they were a clerk or a degreed librarian, should have taken the effort to extract the actual question. Patrons ask questions in the same manner, whether they are supposedly simple informational questions or intensive reference questions. Perhaps this library worker needs a bit of a refresher course in how to do a reference interview and how that can translate into circulation and information questions.

I have many years experience on the front lines, in reference and circulation. As I was reading this line of questions, when it the patron said he/she knew they couldn't get her niece a card, the next logical step is to explain the requirements the parents/guardians would need (photo id and address verification as well as the in-person application). The next logical step for the library worker is not to close down on the patron before the question is even asked.

If this situation happened as described, the Circulation staffer was certainly in the wrong. However, many public libraries place circ. staffers on the desk for 40 hours a week, where they are verbally abused regularly and expected to turn the other cheek every time. It's simply difficult to keep up a good attitude under those conditions. I was once slapped by a patron when I worked Circulation in a public library, because she was frustrated with the slowness of the library's public computers. I told my manager, who did nothing about it; she didn't even warn the patron. That is just one extreme example of the abuse I received from patrons on a daily basis, even when I was being as kind and patient as I could be. While it was my job to get over it and smile and be helpful for the next patron, and I tried to do so, it wasn't easy. Systems that place public servants in such conditions are at least partially responsible when those public servants develop bad attitudes.

I've been there too. I've been physically and verbally assaulted by patrons before. My car has been keyed by someone who was unhappy about a fine. I've had books, library cards, even a dime from a patron upset about owing ten cents all thrown at me. I've had stalkers, yes plural. And, I have had bosses and supervisors who have sided with the patrons in many of these instances. BUT nothing about the incident described above would indicate this particular patron transaction was hostile in any way (other than what is described by the patron as the attitude of the library worker). And whatever other patrons have done to you or whatever lack of support from supervisors you get, that doesn't mean you have the right to be hostile or shut down on patrons if they don't instantly ask the question in the way you approve of.

And obviously, if the interaction when down as it was reported by the patron, then yes, there is a breakdown in the system. Either in training their personnel or in the supervising of that personnel. That still doesn't equate to "patron responsibility" as it was mentioned in the comment I was replying to.

If you cannot work under these conditions and cannot maintain proper customer service traits for each transaction, you should leave or the organization should break ties with you.

If you boss did not do something, there is a mechanisms to overcome that as well.

Sorry, while this logic works when you're talking about supply and demand and capitalism in elementary school, in the real world workers who are abused don't really have the option of just quitting. Not only do they not get paid a living wage (and therefore can't save up to plan for long stretches of unemployment when bouncing from job to job), they are likely to be applying to other institutions that value only mindless repetition of tasks - and thus only want to hear that potential employees were very good at being abused in their previous positions.

While I agree that people should try to find positions that they are cut out for, I disagree strongly that very many people working crappy jobs where they are treated like numbers have the option of just moving on. It'd be nice if everyone would quit McDonald's based on workers' rights, and McDonald's would be forced to improve the employment situation there, but there are so many who are so poor that McDonald's will always have an endless stream of desperate people willing to be trampled upon.

Whether or not they are paid or treated well, in such a line of work, you have to be the best face of customer service possible. If you tick off enough people, more wages and positions can be cut. Word gets out about experiences like this and it does bad things for libraries.

Being treated poorly by a patron does not give you the permission to deviate from good customer service. If you cannot see the deviation, I question you customer service skills.

You are still putting the blame on someone else (abusive patron) in justification of providing poor customer service yourself. It does not matter if you can afford to leave or not. When did 2 wrongs make a right?

Nope. No refresher course is going to change an absolute bitch into a helpful person. You are born with good customer service skills and if you have none, you will never have any. Fire the bitch!

I don't know about you, but I wasn't born with good customer service skills. I was TAUGHT manners and respect for others, as well as job-specific skills like how to ask patrons for clarification without being condescending. The word "skill" implies, by definition, training, therefore it is not something you are "born with". Skill is "proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience". Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/skill )

The issue here is customer service oriented and has nothing to do with "patron responsibility". We are professionals (at least we are supposed to be) and as such we need to be ambassadors to the public with each and every transaction. To be sure some patrons are a pain the butt, however, that should have nothing to do with how we or our staffs interact with the public at large.

The simple fact is that we need to always be looking at each INDIVIDUAL community member as important individually and we should never make the mistake of superimposing the problem patron's activities onto the actions of patrons just wanting information, books or just to say hello.

When we start off assuming the worst we have only ourselves to blame when the worst is what we get thrown back in our faces....

Casey Nees

Agreed. That librarian (or clerk) was way out of line and didn't need to be that rude when addressing the patron. She could have very politely told why the aunt couldn't sign for the girl's library card.

That's bad PR for that library right there. The aunt realized that she couldn't sign for the card and was only going to ask a simple question.

We have the child fill out a postcard, so it at least gets the process started:


I actually find post like this annoying. Instead of complaining to a supervisor that can make sure this does not happen again, they post a one side view of the incident on the web.

I worked in retail while getting my MLIS and we were told over an over that:

-- Only 3 out of 10 satisfied customers tell someone about their satisfaction.

-- But, 7 out of 10 dissatisfied customers tell everyone about their dissatisfaction.

A "satisfied" customer doesn't necessarily get what they want, but they are usually satisfied (or at least *not* dissatisfied) if the person who provided customer service for them *tried* to be helpful.

The point is that, anyone in customer service -- at the Library or any other place of business -- should always strive to *provide* customer service or they can *expect* negative feedback.

And sometimes, posting a negative opinion on the internet is the only way to catch management's attenion and improve customer service where ever that mean, mean librarian is employed.


Nothing in there story suggested they even attempted to notify management first, so I do not know that it was the "only option" to post on the web.

This takes place in all realms of customer service. The service-giver has had bad experiences (either the same day or in total) and takes it out on someone who they percieve as being "yet another...". While we have all been exhausted dealing with the public in one way or another, it is amazing that anyone can try to defend wrong behavior. The library employee was wrong. The patron could have gone to a supervisor, but can also go out here and tell the story (they don't have to follow what we percieve as the right path").

Let he amongst us who has not sinned (or, in this case, gone out to a listserv to complain publicly instead of going to the source)...

Dont be so sure she did not complain!

I have seen similar things happen (tho not as extreme). It is usually a case of the desk person not hearing someone out, possibly because they remember one patron who got all in their face about the very same issue two years prior. We do not have the ability to control every situation, but sometimes we have more power to put a lid on a situation than we realize. We cannot overreact, especially in a preemptive way. Maybe the patron will complain. Maybe they will raise their voices. Maybe they will be OK with the policy like this patron would have been. Either way, they will usually go away less angry if just given to opportunity to say their peace.

If a patron leaves in such a manner, they are more likely to exaggerate the story when they repeat it to others (not saying that happened here).

I don't think we have to wring our hands as a profession over stuff like this, but here we have a perfect example of how not to handle a situation.

and even worse, what was the bad word?

some people don't know how to tell a story.

I'm throwing out a guess that it has something to do with the parents not having their addresses changed on their licenses as that was immediately preceding the part of the sentence about asking "about that". The question most likely was about the requirements of address verification and such.

As for the bad word, I think it's more fun to imagine what this patron would want to say.

The problem is not that some ppl don't know how to tell a story, the problem is that you don't know how to read one. All of the information needed to extrapolate what the question was is in the story. And as for the bad word, one can easily imagine it.

Wow - what crawled up her butt and died?

Hmmmmm....I wonder if that was my boss. It sure sounds like her!

I'm not sure where the line is, but apparently someone was displeased... I guess I'll add a sad face to LISNews in my metaphysical database

Some people give librarians a bad name... (I know it's silly - but I also hate how everyone who works in a library are called "librarians" - sorry but they aren't.)

Stories like this just reinforce that tired old stereotype of librarians as nasty repressed old ladies. Just what we need when we're all trying to make the case that we're relevant....

And unfortunately, the public sees all of us as "librarians," whether we are degreed professionals or clerks with high school diplomas. They don't understand job titles. We just have to accept that.

This was a case of unprofessionalism, pure and simple. It should be grounds for a warning at least and termination if it's habitual. And you don't have to be a degreed professional to bring a professional attitude to your work! I hope the original poster DID complain to someone.

I did have many patrons from hell both as a public librarian and a church librarian. I had some dreadful days. There were times I had to withdraw just to stop shaking and recover my equilibrium. But this is my vocation, and I take it as my daily challenge to maintain a cheerful demeanor and a helpful attitude toward all patrons. I would NEVER be nasty to a patron because my last patron was an SOB.

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