I amended this vignette, from the original, due to length.

Vignette:
A patron who resides out of a library’s primary service area inquires at the desk about purchasing a library card for borrowing privileges. When the staff members offers a completely different service to the patron (an internet access card) on two occasions during the conversation, the patron begins to feel frustrated and misunderstood. The patron attempts to explain again; however, this time she provides several examples of how other libraries handle the same situation. (E.g. Library A charges $40 a year, Library B charges a one time fee of $10, and Library C charges $50 a year)…and the inquires about the library’s policy.

After conferring with another staff member, the situation gets straightened out and the paperwork is started. At the close of the paperwork, when the patron is asked to print her full name and then provide a signature, the staff member begins to question the patron’s signature. Here is the dialogue:

Staff, “You need to have your last name included.”
Patron, “I have already included my full name, but this line is asking for my signature.”
Staff, “Your signature needs to show your last name.”
Patron, “Do you want my legal signature?”
Staff, “Yes.”
Patron, “Well, (Insert Name), this is my legal signature. I can verify it with two forms of photo identification: my driver’s license and my passport, from the U.S. Department of State. Do you want me to change my signature for this library card?”
(The patron points to her signature on her driver’s license and begins to pull out her passport.)
Clerk, “OK. Nevermind. Sorry.”

_______________________________________________

Seriously?! I completely understand that not all libraries offer services to out-of-area patrons. If that is the case, then just SAY SO and don’t waste my time:

“JC, our policy states X. No dice, sister.”

I am not one to get upset or easily frustrated and I certainly do not like to blog about negative things or “critique”, but this particular situation could have been handled countless other ways. It went beyond a simple policy statement of: “yes” or “no.” I found the staff member challenging my LEGAL signature, which was accepted by both the Secretary of State and the United States Department of State, to be beyond inappropriate. This staff member was being downright difficult. (Was she having a bad day? Perhaps. Was she confused and then tried to make-up for it by being on a power trip? Perhaps. Is she a good person? More than likely. Everyone has a bad day now and then.)

What if I was not a bibliophile and willing to trudge through her bureaucratic nonsense? A plain-Jane patron likely would have walked away and someone else having a bad day might have made a scene instead of playing along as I did.

I was entirely tempted to pull out my ALA card and show her the Code of Ethics on the reverse side — specifically highlighting the first principle:

(1) We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

I resisted my temptation and proceeded to appease her with kindness. 

Reflection

Many people are, frankly, intimidated by librarians for a variety of reasons but mostly stemming from a previous poor experience.

This particular individual is NOT a professional librarian; however, the majority of library patrons would not know the difference. Here is why: In a rural public library, the reference and circulation desks are often combined. This particular staff member might act as the gatekeeper of information.

If she had problems dealing with a simple transaction that consisted of knowing BASIC library policy, and failed miserably, how does she handle reference questions? My guess is this: ultimately she is likely to turn people away from the library and that is very sad. If I was of the more timid variety (haha) or even if I had a child with me, I would have likely gave up and walked away.

Everything happens for a reason: I learned from this experience. Every person brings a different set of skills and background to the table (or desk). What might be a weakness, public service, for this particular staff member, might be made up for by her keen attention to detail while placing orders with vendors or processing materials. As a future library director, I need to be aware of staffs’ strengths/weaknesses and place them in positions that support their skills and talents. 

Out of curiosity, I called two libraries from the parking lot and inquired if they issue cards for patrons residing outside of the library’s primary service area. I received clear and concise answers. One agency even took it a step further to give me another option: State Library Card. 

Conclusion:
Patrons should always be treated with respect and provided the highest level of service; however, with library funding as tight and scarce as it is, patrons need to be reminded of the library’s value. If they are walking away feeling frustrated, it might be what they remember when stepping into the voting booth. Make it a positive experience!

It is completely OK to not know the answer. Do not, I repeat: DO NOT, try to be a know-it-all. I ask questions all the time! Know your limits and ask for help, if necessary.

If you see a co-worker, new or seasoned, floundering or looks to be confused, offer to help rather than standing in the back behind a glass window watching/listening. ALA Code of Ethics: (5) We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions. Despite being being jerked around, I treated my LIS colleague with respect and kindness — unfortunately, I was not shown the same courtesy.

And, for the love of books and all things literary, know your agency’s policy (or keep a copy nearby to thumb through, if in doubt — great idea for new employees)! Example: When I managed a NFP, I printed out the policy/procedure manual, placed it in a binder, and added tabs to the different sections. The manual was kept in a visible and accessible location for staffs’ perusal. And, guess what? It was used! 

Note: In my twenty-two-some years of frequenting libraries solo, without a parent/guardian, this is my very first negative experience.