Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What They Didn't Teach In Library School: Dealing with the Angry People

'What They Didn't Teach In Library School' is a series of guest-authored posts,
written by YA Librarians from around the country, highlighting situations or skills
that were never addressed in formal Library School, but that are integral to librarianship.
Dealing with the Angry People
by Viviana Valencia
Any service that serves the public has to deal with the occasional upset person.  People who are happy rarely take the time to communicate their feelings, while someone who is frustrated or deeply annoyed is more than happy to share.  Handling angry patrons is a skill that any librarian, but especially public librarians, must embrace.  At my branch, mostly customer irritation is caused by Circulation issues and, at my small branch, Librarians do the same work as Library Assistants or Library Clerks - so we're dealing with angry customers quite often.
Many of the customer service problems I've encountered were not covered in school and I did not learn how to handle angry customers until I was on the job. After SEVERAL mistakes I've discovered the following are helpful when handling an angry customer:
  • Never show the patron that they are affecting your own temper. Always try to show empathy but not react along with them in anger, or allow your irritation or frustration to show.
  • Before you make any decisions or if you have any questions always go to a supervisor.
  • If the patron is being truly belligerent, you need to get a supervisor. Just because you work in public service does not mean you are the public's doormat.
Often, if it is a minor issue, such as a problem with a small fine, waiving it once is more beneficial than possibly losing a customer over 10cents. However, there are plenty of customers who scam or abuse the system, so you should always a note of the fine waiver and inform your supervisor.  If you do not have the power to waive a minor fine, the customer may need to speak directly with a manager.
Remember, the Public Library's job is to serve the public - alienating the very people you are trying to serve is a good way to loose public support of libraries.
About Viviana
Viviana Valencia-Serrano is 26 years old and pretty new to working as an official Librarian but has a long history with libraries. She is currently a Youth Services Librarian at a small branch in Debary, Florida where all library staff do a little of everything. Viviana's branch has a 'one desk' system, so Reference Services, Children Services (including Programming), Teen Services, Circulation and Computer Services are all handled at the same desk. At age 12 Viviana started in libraries as a Student Volunteer, then became Student Worker at the age of 16 and again at 19. After finishing her undergraduate degree, Viviana earned her MLIS at the University of South Florida.

Want more posts on issues not covered in Library School?
Check out Teen Librarian Toolbox's series Behind the Scenes @ the Library.
What They Didn't Teach In Library School Post Schedule
January 1, 2013 - Overcoming the Pied Piper Syndrome
January 16, 2013 - Finding Balance - The Enforcer vs. The YA Librarian
January 23, 2013 - Dealing with Peeps Not Like Me
January 30, 2013 - Mousy & Mild Won't Cut It
February 6, 2013 - Community Service and the Library
February 13, 2013 - Dealing with the Angry Folk
February 20, 2013 - Mistakes as Opportunities
February 27, 2013 - Librarians as Social Workers
March 6, 2013 - Adapt or Perish
March 13, 2013 - No Do-Overs
March 20, 2013 - Promotion & Programming