Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rubber Room: a rantlet about confrontation

What we need at our branch is a rubber room. Or just a private, quiet office where we can punch or shake a pillow that we can call "Bad Patron."

Or "Bad Administrator."

Or "Bad President."

Pick your bad guy.

I guess the thing about Public Libraries is that we who work in them at times feel so damn beholden to the public for our jobs that we bend over backwards to accomodate them. Yet we are supposed to have rules and guidelines to follow. And our admin procedures often have the cautionary rubric: "Follow to the Letter."

So when we follow to the letter, but a patron is upset about what we do and calls a higher up (hereafter known as HU) and the HU 1) accomodates the patron 2) rebukes the librarian and/or 3) promises to accomodate but makes the librarian do the accomodating, what does that say about the organization?

I'll tell you what it says: "we have no policies. You can always get over. Always. Because we want to please You, the Public, no matter what."

It's not about materials necessarily--we believe that for every reader, there should be a book and it should be in the hands of the reader ASAP!!! It's about boundaries. I like working with the public, but shoot. They think they OWN us.

Well, some of them act like they do. And if HU doesn't back us up, well no wonder we public librarians sometimes feel like we're slave labour. And we don't smile. And we seem tense and uptight all the way up to our upswept be-bunned hair.

Certain things, yeah, we want to use our best judgment for. Fine. Certain things we can bend for. But if there are circumstances in which we feel we can't or shouldn't bend--because otherwise everyone and their grandmother will want us to bend--can we just abide by the rules and have done with it?

Otherwise, why bother with patron confidentiality? You forgot your library card? Just tell me your name and I'll get your info to you.

I think part of it is the mindset of us librarians. We're nice people. We'd prefer really open access to everything. We're people pleasers and would prefer not to have confrontations or arguments. Some of our policies are designed to protect us, yet we feel guilty for taking advantage of them--or let ourselves be pushed to the brink before we do. There are fine lines and everyone's different. If you're easily irritated don't go in for public work.

But still. We need our boundaries!!!!

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