The Swilley Library is Mercer University's Atlanta campus library located just within the Perimeter.
Mercer is a private university.
Any adult and accompanied child can come in but they cannot check out books, study rooms, etc.
Having talked with some public librarians, I know any challenges I’ve had with academic library patrons do not hold a candle to what public librarians experience.
Since you are the experts, I will have three breakout group exercises later to glean from your expertise.
Break into groups of four to decide how your group would answer these three questions.Choose someone to speak for your group.You’ll have four minutes to decide what you would say and do.
The reason I did not use "problem patron" in my title is because "problem" suggests an aberrant case.
A possibly improved economy and increased access to mental health care may improve the current situation, but by how much?
I've heard a staff member groan when a particular patron approached the desk. What expectations is she setting for him?
"When you point a finger you point three fingers at yourself." Just as it’s said that doctors make the worst patients, librarians can sometimes be “problem patrons” on the other side of the desk.Could be cultural. Normal speaking volume and elbow room varies between cultures.
Could be different ideals of what a library is and does.
In the other videos the patrons were actors. In this clip everyone is an actor.Tom Hanks plays a character with AIDS before many people knew how it was transmitted and before the antiretroviral therapies that exist today.The focus should be on the patron’s behavior, not on their appearance.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Libraries are getting negative publicity in popular media because of our patrons and how we interact with them.
Prevent library services from being abused.
Raise your hand if your library has rules for patron behavior.
It would not be acceptable if one of your coworkers harassed you and compromised your workplace safety, neither should the patrons.
I don't know of any mental health professional who must agree to take on any individual as a client. You can refuse service.
In Warren Graham’s excellent book The Black Belt Librarian, he says that there are homeless individuals who have been banned from returning to shelters due to their behavior. Why should the library "have to put up with the same disruptive behavior?"
A question that policy does not answer well is what to do if the entire staff recognizes a patron as having a strong potential for violent or illegal behavior but there is no recorded evidence of such. Police or security can monitor such individuals from a distance without confrontation.
Choose someone who has not been a spokesperson for your group yet to speak.
Avoid flowery, overly-positive, indirect language. Simple is most understandable.
Has anyone heard about what happened at the Doraville Public Library in 2010? Indecent exposure is illegal under the law, not just a library policy.
If the relationship between the police and the library is not good then it doesn't matter if they're located across the street from each other. Police protection can feel miles away.If everyone is not on board, then a patron could go to another staff member to get what they want. If police and counsel do not approve the policy then it could go unenforced.
We’ve been trained for years to be helpful and friendly. We have satisfaction surveys. OR through repeated uncomfortable experiences we put up our defenses each time we encounter a new patron. We have to be both helpful, friendly, AND firmly enforce boundaries for patrons who cross them repeatedly.
In our personal lives when someone behaves towards us in a way we do not accept, we may react in a way that works out very well for us. But if we were to react in the same way at our libraries, it might not work out as well.
You don’t have to react in a fraction of a second. You can wait. Even if a child is falling, take a second to think about the potential litigation from their parent before you reach out to try and catch them.
Sometimes the patron just needs to vent and get something off their chest. If it's a patron like the one in Doraville, don't listen.
A computer game that has a patron and librarian as characters and you control the librarian avatar.
But instead of dominance and avoidance, the moves in this game are to problem solve.
Do not tell a patron that they're being rude.
Unless they’ve never told you their name, there are privacy issues, or you’re going to mangle it.
The way the librarian in the second video wearing the black shirt acknowledged that the patron was feeling frustrated because he could not find his CIA employment records online.
Leah Esquerra who is the social worker on staff at the San Francisco Public Library tells about a consultation she had with a patron: “Ken, I am here to help you, but I need to let you know that I need you to stop using offensive language. First let us agree to be respectful to one another. I just want to inform you that should you use the word you just did... I will ask you to leave. Do you agree with me on this?"
"Ken, I am so sorry, but this meeting is over. I've asked you a couple of times to please be respectful and stop using language that really offends me… I need to ask you to [please] leave. You are welcome to come back another time..."
Document a corrective action even if it wasn’t challenging. So a patron won’t circumvent you and pull the same tricks on another staff member.
Patron perceived as difficult
The Patron Perceived as
Liaison to the College of Continuing and Professional Studies
Associate Professor, Division of Library Services
Mercer University Atlanta
Monroe F. Swilley, Jr., Library
Thursday, October 9, 2013
I am not a lawyer nor a law enforcement
I am not a medical nor mental health
The views I present are not necessarily
those of the Monroe F. Swilley, Jr. Library or
The views I present are not necessarily
even ones that I agree with.
Do you have a larger percentage of
“problem patrons” now or ten years ago?
Not only libraries – customer service, health
Reduction in social services
Fewer family and friends can afford to support others or
those outside their immediate family.
Lack of face-to-face social skills
Evolving libraries - misperception of increased permisiveness
Louder speaking volume, more comfortable furniture
Fewer bookshelves and books, more DVDs and games
More computers which patrons often use for entertainment
Can online resources make library
spaces look more intellectual?
Breakout exercise #1 What would
you do? What would you say? Why?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWmCSp8kEW4 3:10 to 3:37
Breakout exercise #2 What would
you do? What would you say? Why?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWmCSp8kEW4 15:24 to 16:27
Is the term “Problem Patron”
Suggests that the “problem patron” is unusual.
Patrons may fill what they perceive as expected of
Labeling and dehumanizing
Reflects the labeler's sense of helplessness.
Subjective - Which patrons are problems may differ
between librarians. More likely to label when:
the patron has a disability that may make them
appear angry when they’re not.
staff and patron have different “values, norms, or
perceptions.” (Ferrell, 2010)
Staff feeling external pressures.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkpHalgTqpw 0 to 1:13
One out of five. (19.6% in 2011. SAMHSA, 2012)
Many librarians and staff members have mental
90% of people with serious psychiatric disorders
are not disruptive. (Torrey, 2009)
The mentally ill are more likely to be victims than
The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II
protects the mentally ill from being “excluded
from participation or be[ing] denied the benefits
of public services, programs, or activities.”
Boundaries – Policies
Instead of removing services
Focus on the patron’s behavior, not on their
Library staff are people too
Consequences of rule violation
Includes an appeals process
Approved by legal counsel, police and patrons
means of access
to information in
“maintain a safe and
healthy environment in
which library users
and staff can be free
on, and threats to their
safety and well-being”
Guidelines for the Development of Policies and
Procedures Regarding User Behavior and
the library is
not to judge
Patrons must not
disrupt or offend
thereby making the
Breakout Exercise #3 Which would you
1. “You cannot cause a disturbance. Library staff
determines what is a disturbance. If you cause a
disturbance you will be asked to leave” – Cathy
2. “… Bringing in items excluding personal items
(purse, laptop, briefcase) that occupy floor space
in excess of 14"W x17" H x 20". Items are
measured in totality and must be placed and fit
easily into a measuring box of the above
dimensions…” – Seattle Public Library
Police / Security
Everyone must enforce
Enforcement - Procedures
Every staff member uniformly applies them to
Annual staff training
Have conversations so everyone
Include a mental health professional
Do not refer every challenging patron
interaction to security.
Communication with area libraries
Always have at least two employees in the
library when it is open.
Do not use dummy cameras - possible
Stay in public view
Do not leave the library with a patron even to
take down a tag number.
Fighting Fight or Flight
Our instinctive actions may run counter to
Wait. Breathe in counting 1-4. Breath out
Stop thinking or paying attention to anything else
that could be bothering you.
Listen to what the patron is saying.
View the situation as an outsider.
What to say
Say their name. If you don't know it or are
not supposed to know it, introduce yourself.
Acknowledge the patron’s feelings
Repeat back to them what you heard them
say and what you understand.
Pivot conversations with hallucinagenic or
paranoid patrons to the library's services.
Complete a report to share with staff,
administration and security
in case of an appeal or litigation.
to argue for increased funding
even for relatively routine corrective actions
so the patron cannot circumvent you.
Ignoring issues should not be more rewarding
No guarantees. People can behave
Success doesn’t always feel good. It may feel
bad and wrong.
It takes practice.
Remember the quiet patrons – who may feel
comfortable spending time in the library again.