Whether you are in a school or public library, you have probably had to work with a patron that was required to visit the library. Sometimes they come in groups or sometimes they come alone. Sometimes they are happy to be there but often the fact that their presence in the library is a requirement makes them reluctant or resentful patrons. Here are some steps that I take to avoid making a tough situation worse and help make the patron feel at home in the library. I came to all of theses conclusions by trail and error–lots of errors.
- Be Prepared In a perfect world the teacher who has required students to visit the library has told you that they are coming but my how to steps are designed for the real world. Teens often come to the library for a specific project or for generic library instruction. Have a brief (no more than 5-8min) introduction to the library and how to use the library in ready in your head. It helps to have pamphlets on hand to for these unexpected visits. The handouts will most likely end up in the trash (recycling bin if you are lucky) but it will help keep you on point. I have found that the best handout is generic enough that it helps with basic search tips and highlights your awesome gaming collection.
- Understand their Position I have had to sign sheets that confirm that a student has received library instruction and assistance on projects. If I feel like a parole officer, I can only imagine how they feel in this situation. One teen reported that this made her feel like a “child.” It is important than to remember to treat them as intelligent young adults. Show them that the library is a place that respects them.
- Lose the Librarian Talk and Be Natural Nothing makes a resentful patron more resentful than strange vocabulary and being talked down too. This is so difficult to remember. My library is working on a list of words that we are trying not too use around patrons. We are thinking of making a donation jar–drop quarter when you say a bad librarian word! Along the same line, we are trying to be aware of how we speak to teens. When we started evaluating each other, we were shocked to find that we often asked questions like “Do you know what an abstract is?” Out of context, we were able to hear how condescending we sound. By evaluating each other, we have been able to help reduce how often we say these annoying phrases.
- Handle the Attitude and Sell the Library This is especially tough when you are working with a group of teens who are required to listen to you. They don’t want to be there–they think libraries are outdated, unfriendly and that you are a total nerd (and not in a good way!). I find the best way to handle this is to start off by asking them what their impressions and feeling are about libraries. Encourage honesty and be prepared to hear horror stories. As they tell you how librarians are unfriendly, acknowledge their past experiences and ask them to give us another chance. Show them how technically advanced your library is and be prepared to show them the coolest aspect of your collection or something unique about your library. The teens may not want to be there but don’t lose the opportunity to win them over.
- Have Candy I know this comes up all the time… but it works! Having candy can really help with that awkward moment when you have to scramble to get ready for the unexpected group .