Check Your Problem Patron Policy

While I’ve been away at conference, we had a second incident with a patron back on campus. While, for various reasons of this is the internet and everything is searchable, I won’t go into all of the details, I want to write down a couple of things and make a request.

I started reporting an issue with this patron the Monday before St. Patrick’s Day. However, because we don’t have a formal reporting method at my library, this was limited to mentioning it to the coworkers in my department and feelings of discomfort.  Those feelings spread slowly through my department as said patron slowly went through the staff, figuring out who hadn’t shut them down for misuse of library resources. Because there wasn’t obvious issues (“extracurricular” video viewing, etc) and said patron looks very neutral and innocuous, and we all have crazy schedules, this took a while.

All of this came to a head recently with a particularly contentious incident that ended up leaving several of us visibly shaking from the adrenaline overload. And yet it wasn’t until this second incident that a full staff email went out.  I asked my Dept Head if, when we get home,  I can be a part of figuring out appropriate notification procedure development going forward because this is the 3rd library I will have been a part of where it was AFTER there had been an incident that we implemented a notification policy for everyone who worked in that building.

I’d like to think that incidents don’t only start occurring after I’ve started working someplace, something I’m inclined to believe by talking to other librarians who are facing similar stand offs with patrons over computer usage, access, whether or not it is appropriate to be looking at graphically violent and or vulgar materials while a toddler is two feet away, and whether or not we’ll allow someone to blatantly steal our materials.

For my sake, please take minute today and ask yourself if you know what the policy is in your building if there is an incident. How are other people notified? How are night/weekend and student workers notified? Where is there a paper/electronic trail kept? What is the response of the building management and your local security/police? Does everyone know what phrases to use when calling on security/police to alert them of a serious situation versus someone who is snoring a little too loudly? What steps will be taken to ensure the general safety of the staff–so they know management is behind them?

There are many times people are merely having a bad day and many one off events or behavioral issues that can be easily dealt with, rules reminded, etc to ensure that access to the library can continue.  The Queen of Reference at LPL is a master handler of situations where it requires sitting down and having a conversation rather than a knee jerk reactionary banning.  However, when staff members are threatened and when we see a repeat pattern of abuse, it becomes an untenable situation.

Please ask these questions today, so that if I ever change jobs again, I won’t be faced with unclear or nonexistent policies again.