Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ask for What You Want

Michael Stephens & Michael Casey, writing in Library Journal, challenge us to move beyond our perceived stereotypes. They note:
Unfortunately, librarians are often portrayed as technologically backward, fearful of teens and loud noises, and overly protective of books to the point of not wanting anyone to “touch our stuff.”
Their suggestion is that we as a profession need to be more assertive. If we confront our problem patrons rather than creating new rules so we don't have to confront them, we'll be moving in the right direction. We should not hesitate to enforce our rules.

Their other example is our failure to get any library vendors to provide iPod-compatible audiobooks via libraries (surely a frequent patron complaint). I'm unsure that a lack of librarian assertiveness has been key in that issue. I suspect we don't swing enough weight in the market to make a difference in this particular battle of the Apple-Microsoft wars.

It occurs to me that budgets might be another example. We have to articulate our needs, but we're hesitant to alienate decision-makers. We may not get what we ask for, but if we don't ask, we'll surely not get it. The LJ article, and the reader responses, are worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

While I agree with some of what Mr. Stephens and Mr. Casey have said they are lumping a lot of unrelated problems together. I am a big believer in environmental solutions to problems rather than constant confrontations with patrons. Move a piece of furniture to avoid loitering and problem behaviors -- great idea! Sometimes we don't think of the consequences of what we are offering people and good management practices allow for constant evaluation of siuations. If re-evaluation showed that maybe there was a problem with the location of a couch why not move it? If the director of this library really thought that staff was out of line in asking to move a couch when only one patron was abusing it, perhaps that director is the timid one in not being able to tell his or her staff that what they are asking for is unreasonable.

I do not see this as the same issue as libraries descriminating against entire populations of users such as teens. The library that suggested closing because of "rowdy teens" wasn't actually acting in a timid way - they were doing the opposite and would have potentially punished all types of users had they followed through on their plan. Threatening to close the library is timid??? I am sure the front line staff of that library would be furious to consider that anyone called them timid. I am sure they had many hostile and threatening interactions for the situation to get to the level it appeared to from the publicity this issue received. I don't agree with what they considered, but I have a feeling few people involved would have called the situation "timid."

Libraries often pay a lot of money for technological solutions to the problems they face. For example, Internet time management systems allow staff to communicate discretely with patrons that are breaking the rules. They allow staff to set up paramaters of acceptable use and the system enforces them. I find that when staff become involved in interactions patrons get more angry because people that break rules feel entitled to what they are doing and no one likes someone else to tell them what to do. However, they rarely argue with the computer. Let the technology do for the staff what we are paying for. Free up staff time away from constant enforcement of behavioral issues and let them help some people find the information they need. Does this mean I am timid because I don't like to get in constant arguments with patrons?

I think the question of if we are timid as a group or not is really interesting and agree with their arguments about libraries accepting mediocre products rather than demanding better, however I disagree with several of their other examples... and I like the Garrison Keillor skits.

Terry Dawson said...

You're surely right about this area being subject to over-generalization. Per specific examples, a few years ago we removed a bench from outside the library because there was no way to supervise it and we had loitering problems which were somewhat threatening to staff safety -- eventually, there was no bench! This is rather different from not wanting to speak to one patron who was causing a problem. As with the time management software, this is more about logical solutions than it is about avoiding confrontation.

OTOH, I rather enjoy "Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian", in the belief that Mr. Keillor actually has a fair amount of respect for our profession, but is having some fun satirizing the stereotype.