Texas Library Association Annual Conference

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Surviving the Public: With the Help of Unshelved

Presented by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Unshelved Website

Customer service isn’t for the faint of heart, especially so in libraries. As a former librarian, Gene used his past patron experiences as inspiration to write the comic strip Unshelved. Using tongue-in-cheek lessons, Bill and Gene discussed a number of ways to make the most out of negative patron interactions.

For the character Dewey, the authors have created what are known as “Dewey Moments”. They strongly advise readers to not try these at work, since several of Dewey’s comments would be seen as fireable offenses in many workplaces. These moments are what we’d like to say, but can’t, so Dewey says them for us.

Bill and Gene have changed the aphorism, “The customer is always right,” to “The customer is seldom right”.

Often, customers become aggressive when they fear they will not get what they want. As public servants, it’s our job to assume positive intent; the patron would like a positive outcome, but don’t know how to go about getting it. When an aggressive person realizes we are trying to help them, they often become over-apologetic and feel guilty. We need to provide a positive solution and not take no for an answer.

Libraries have made their systems easy to learn so that most people can use them on their own. These people need us only to show them how to use the system, then are happy to go their own way. Simplifying our systems has left us with the difficult people, which has in turn created a damaged ecosystem.

When patrons are confused, they become better at asking questions.

Policies are rules created out of necessity. They are a history of bad behavior, and often a very interesting story is attached to them.

Policies are meant to be broken, but it can protect you against difficult people.

Librarians and library workers are Confidentiality Heros.

Passing a patron between staff members like a hot potato is tempting, but will only serve to enrage the patron AND your coworkers.

If all else fails, APOLOGIZE. It will diffuse a situation even when they’re at fault.

Dewey says, “Every time we teach someone about a resource, an angel gets its wings.”

While every customer service job is filled with negative and aggressive customers, we must remember that WE are also customers to someone else. Think of times when you’ve been a bad customer and how you were treated. Was the situation your fault, or the fault of the company? Be honest! How did the representative handle your situation? REMEMBER THIS!