Monday, January 31, 2011

Bibliographic instruction

Bibliographic instruction/bi – what is it anyway?

ALA Glossary
“An information service to a group, which is designed to teach library users how to locate information efficiently. The essential goals of this process are an understanding of the library’s system of organization and the ability to use selected reference materials. In addition, instruction may cover the structure of literature and the general and specific research methodology appropriate for a discipline.”

More commonly known as:
  • Library Instruction
  • Library Orientation
  • User Education
  • Research Instruction
  • Library Literacy
  • Information Literacy
    o The “in” term

Information literacy
“Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.’”

Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

ACRL. Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

The idea of showing bibliographic instruction is most common in academic and school libraries.


  • Identifying needs and abilities
    o e.g. education level
  • Introducing the library and its resources
    o via orientation; attaches a human face to the library
  • Encouraging students to use the librarians as a resource


  • A cooperative effort
    o work in conjunction with one another
  • Enhance what they teach in the classroom
  • Introduce new resources and services

What type of BI?

  • Programs
    o courses
  • Orientations
    o directions
  • One shot sessions
    o instruction
  • Faculty/teacher requested workshops
  • Tours
  • Workshops – not so much/not very popular
  • Research consultants
    o one-on-one

    Another type is developing pathfinders/handouts.

Academic audience

  • Typical audience
    o First year students
    o Undergraduates
    o Graduate students
    o Distance learners

  • Audience characteristics
    o Different levels of knowledge and expertise
    o Different needs
    o Different approach/same skills
    o More involvement/greater expectations

Learning styles

  • Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory
    o Accommodator
    * Concrete Expertise and Active Experimentation, action oriented, business, teaching
    o Assimilator
    * Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation, good at creating theoretical models, basic science and mathematics, college professors
    o Converger
    * Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation, practical application of ideas, physical sciences, engineers
    o Diverger
    * Concrete Experience through Reflective Observation, strong imaginative ability, research and planning, counselors and personnel managers

What to teach?

  • Don’t need to cover everything
    o determine what is important
  • How to choose information resources
  • Matching information to needs
  • Evaluating information resources in context
  • Emphasize importance of bibliography

Teaching techniques

  • Lectures
  • Demonstration
  • Active learning strategies
    o Brainstorming, case studies, simulations, guided practice, role play, etc.
  • Online, self-paced tutorials


  • Difficult to get tangible assessments
  • Anecdotal (not scientific)
  • Faculty feedback
  • Student paper bibliographies
  • Index cards
  • Web forms


  • Repetition
  • No mandated instruction for students after first year/introductory
  • Too much material, too little time: 50-80 minutes
  • Facilities and equipment
    o e.g. finding rooms to teach with enough computers
  • Mixed ability classes


  • Information literacy
  • For-credit courses in library research
  • Researching remote users
  • Web-based tutorials
  • Digital reference software allows for live tutorials
    o Remote users can use web-based tutorials and chat reference tools.

Monday, January 24, 2011

User education

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
– Samuel Johnson.

In the beginning there was CHAOS. And the students moved aimlessly upon the face of the library. And the reference librarians said, “Let there be instruction.” (Constance A. Mellon, ed. Bibliographic Instruction the Second Generation. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1987 3).

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • Define and recognize the activities associated with:
    o library orientation
    o library instruction
    o bibliographic instruction
    o information literacy

Required reading
American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. “The Nine Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning.” Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998. 4 Feb. 2009.

“Big6™ Skills Overview.” The Big6™. 2 Apr. 2002. 4 Feb. 2009.

We usually associate formal education in how to use the library and its resources with academic and school libraries. Public library users traditionally have been expected to discover, on their own, how to access information, or to turn to the library staff for individual assistance when needed. As libraries have become more complex, the need for instruction in how to use the resources they offer have grown. While evidence of instruction in library use dates back to the 1870’s, it was not until the 1960’s that instruction gained increasing importance. In 1971, the term “bibliographic instruction” originated with the creation of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Ad Hoc Committee on Bibliographic Instruction. This was followed in 1973 with the establishment of the Library Orientation Exchange (LOEX), a clearinghouse for materials used in library instruction. In the mid seventies, the American Library Association’s Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) came into being. Its mission is “to advocate library instruction as a means for developing competent library and information access skills, along with their use, as a part of lifelong learning.” Unlike ACRL, it represents all types of libraries, academic, public, school, and special. In the last few years a new term has emerged, “information literacy,” and it seems destined to supplant bibliographic instruction as the catchphrase for library instruction.

Library orientation
Whatever it is termed, education of library users occurs at many levels and in many formats. One of the most basic library instruction services is library orientation. Library orientation can be defined as “an information service to a group designed to introduce potential library users to the facilities, organization, and services of a particular library” (ALA Glossary 132).

Objectives of library orientation include:

  • introduction to the library’s physical facilities.
  • introduction to departments/services and appropriate library staff.
  • introduction of specific services such as interlibrary loan, or e-mail reference.
  • introduction to library policies such as hours of operation, or overdue policies.
  • introduction to how the collection is organized in order to make finding materials easier.
  • motivating users to come back and use the resources.
  • communicating an atmosphere of helpfulness and friendliness.

Library orientation is most often associated with in person group tours of the library. Video and online virtual tours along with signage, maps of the library’s layout, and other printed guides and handouts are also considered to fall under library orientation.

Library instruction
Distinct from library orientation is library instruction. Library instruction: refers to instruction in the use of libraries, with an emphasis on instruction-specific procedures, collections and policies. The term emphasizes the library as defined by its physical parameters (Bopp and Smith, 179).

Typical library instruction objectives are:

  • learning to use Canadian MAS FullTEXT Elite on the EBSCOhost system
  • learning to use the library online catalogue to find items on a particular subject.
  • learning to find, view and copy resources in microfilm and microfiche format.
  • learning to use a specific reference tool such as the Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.

The lecture has been a popular means of providing library instruction, along with workbooks, handouts and most recently web based tutorials.

Bibliographic instruction
During the 1970’s, the term bibliographic use came into common use. The 1983 ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science, provides the following definition of bibliographic instruction:

bibliographic instruction An information service to a group, which is designed to teach library users how to locate information efficiently. The essential goals of this process are an understanding of the library’s system of organization and the ability to use selected reference materials. In addition, instruction may cover the structure of the literature and the general and specific research methodology appropriate for a discipline.

Library instruction in this context moves from just learning how to use a specific title or tool to the more general goal of learning how to develop and use a search strategy. Also, with a knowledge of principles of information organization and retrieval, users should be able to function in a variety of information settings not just in one specific library.

In support of the concept of bibliographic instruction (BI), the ACRL produced in 1987, a Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction. General objectives from the Model Statement are:

  1. The user understands how information is defined by experts, and recognizes how that knowledge can help determine the direction of his/her search for specific information.
  2. The user understands the importance of the organizational content, bibliographic structure, function, and use of information sources.
  3. The user can identify useful information from information sources or information systems.
  4. The user understands the way collections of information sources are physically organized and accessed.

Information literacy
The term information literacy has gained favour in many places over that of bibliographic instruction. The American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy in its Final Report defined information literacy as follows:

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Producing such a citizenry will require that schools and colleges appreciate and integrate the concept of information literacy into their learning programs and that they play a leadership role in equipping individuals and institutions to take advantage of the opportunities inherent within the information society. Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.

In its Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, ACRL states:

  1. The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  2. The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
  3. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
  4. The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
  5. The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and use information ethically and legally.

In 1998 the American Associations of School Librarians along with the Association for Educational Communications and Technology published Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Information literacy, in this document, is seen as “the keystone of learning” (1) and nine standards for student learning are presented under the categories “Information Literacy,” “Independent Learning,” and “Social Responsibility”.

The American Association of School Libraries, in its Information Literacy: A Position Paper on Information Problem Solving presents seven curriculum areas for information literacy:

  1. Defining the need for information.
  2. Defining the search strategy.
  3. Locating the resources.
  4. Asserting and comprehending the information.
  5. Interpreting the information.
  6. Communicating the information.
  7. Evaluating the product and process.

Appropriate information literacy activities include instruction in:

  • how to formulate a question and construct a search strategy
  • how to evaluate the authoritativeness and reliability of information
  • how to locate resources in a variety of media e.g. print, audiovisual, and electronic both within and without a library.

Prior to these documents Michael Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz, school library media specialists, developed The Big6™ Skills Information Problem-Solving Approach. The Big6™ provides a detailed curriculum and has been widely used especially in school library instruction programs.

A variety of instructional methods for information literacy programs is available each with its pros and cons. One on one, or point of use, individualized reference help is effective and popular with users but can tie up a staff member for an extended period of time with one patron. The addition of more electronic services such as online databases, may result in more requests for help in using them, but a drop in traditional reference statistics because more time is being spent with individual problems.

Group modes of instruction include lectures, demonstrations, workshops and credit or non-credit courses. While these reach a larger number of people at one time, they require much more time in initial planning and preparation.

Printed materials such as handouts and guides, once prepared, save repetition of commonly requested information and are helpful as a complement to group sessions. If available online, they are also easily accessible to remote users. They do, however, take time to produce and to be effective must be updated as needed.

Web based tutorials are becoming an increasingly popular means of library instruction. Users can proceed at their own pace and a time and place convenient to them. Again, time must be invested in their initial development, setup, and revision. Additionally, users must be motivated to work on their own.

Whether under the term bibliographic instruction or information literacy, the thrust of today’s approach to user education is to teach problem solving and lifelong learning skills in finding and using information.

Works cited
ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association, 1983.

American Association of School Librarians. Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.

American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report. 1989. 2 Mar. 2001.

“Big6™ Skills Overview.” The Big6™. 2 Apr. 2002.

Bopp, Richard E. and Linda C. Smith. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2001.

Information Literacy: A Position Paper on Information Problem Solving. 27 Nov. 2000. American Association of School Libraries. 4 Feb. 2010.

Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. 27 Jul. 2000. Association of College and Research Libraries. 14 Jan. 2001.

Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education: Standards, Performance Indicators, and Outcomes. 28 Nov. 2000. Association of College and Research Libraries. 14 Jan. 2001.

Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction.7 Jun. 2000. Association of College and Research Libraries. 14 Jan. 2001.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Handling problem situations

It’s not a problem that we have a problem. It’s a problem if we don’t deal with the problem.

Mary Kay Utech

By the end of this module you should be able to:
* Recognize and deal with problem or potential problem situations.

Required readings
Hidy, John. “Tips for Dealing with Problem Patrons.” Video. Indiana Video Information Network. 2 Jan. 2001. 9 Apr. 2001
View this 7:32 minute video if at all possible. 56k connection recommended. Requires Real Player software.

Rubin, R. J. “Defusing the Angry Patron.” Library Mosaics. (May/June 2000)

Society is changing at a rapid pace. Often this change is driven by technology. The changes that are occurring in society show up in libraries as well. What then are some of these changes and their consequences?

Coping with technological change can lead to feelings of frustration and anger. Take a minute to think about how technology has affected your own daily life. Voice mail is common, as are cell phones. We use automated banking machines. We go to the library and look up print materials on automated catalogues. We use computers to access databases and the Internet. We have to remember pass codes for such things as our bank card, or our phone calling card. While we have become accustomed to such changes in a relatively short period of time, I am sure we can all think of instances when we became upset and frustrated because we had to deal with a “machine” and were not quite sure how to use it. Have you ever been in a grocery checkout line and forgotten the code for your debit card when it came time to pay? How did it make you feel?

If you sometimes feel frustrated by the pace of change think how it must be for others. Deinstitutionalization and factors, such as government cutbacks and erosion of social services, have resulted in increased numbers of people suffering from a variety of problems trying to make their way in society as a whole. Family breakdown, economic necessity, etc. has created the phenomenon of latchkey children. In addition, public access to the Internet has brought its own set of problems, ranging from altercations over refusal to vacate terminals when time limits are in effect to inappropriate viewing behavior, to battles over filtering.

We often associate problem situations with public libraries, especially those located in urban areas of the United States. The phenomenon of homelessness, poverty, deinstitutionalization, government cutbacks, etc. is not exclusive to the United States, however. We in Canada are experiencing much of the same (see Mandel, Charles. “Homeless Patrons Pose Challenges for Libraries.”) Neither are problem situations exclusive to public libraries. They can and do occur in all types of libraries. Adding to the problem are the legal issues surrounding actions libraries might take.

Questions of the law as it applies in the United States are quite evident in ALA’s Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures Regarding User Behavior and Library Usage. No comparable document has been developed by the Canadian Library Association. Where Canadian Libraries have developed policies regarding user behavior, reference is often made to conduct in contravention of the Criminal Code.

We must remember, however, that although much attention focuses on the so called “problem patron,” a variety of problem situations may arise in a library. Examples include:
  • fire
  • infrastructure failures, e.g.
    o heat
    o power
    o water
  • injury or sudden illness of a patron or staff member
  • natural disasters, e.g.
    o flood
    o tornado
  • bomb threats
Libraries should have written policies, perhaps in their disaster preparedness or emergency procedures manual, covering such events. Staff should have regularly scheduled training in procedures to follow when they occur.

Problem patrons
Libraries in general and public libraries in particular are open to all. Free access, however, brings with it potential problems. Of most note is the “problem patron”. The Ontario Library Service’s Library Board Orientation Kit defines a “problem patron” as
A user whose behavior disturbs the normal functioning of the library. Problem patrons include those whose actions annoy others, persons who use the library for purposes other than reading and study, and individuals who deface library property or remove library materials from the premises without checking them out.
Bruce A. Shuman in “Down and Out in the Reading Room: The Homeless in the Public Library” (9) presents the following classes of problem patrons.
Class IClass IIClass III
(very serious)
Who Knows?
(serious but...)
(annoying but harmless)
sexually deviant
emotionally disturbed
committing arson
child molesting
rule breaking
belonging to the group
highly emotional
zealous, preaching
"acting weird"
politically incorrect
physically ill
bringing pets
continually pacing
time monopolizing
loud talking, laughing
whispering, humming
amorous (consensual)
As we can see from the above list, there are a wide variety of behaviors and situations, ranging from the annoying to the dangerous. Most often it is staff working in front line positions such as reference, circulation and shelving who must initially deal with problem situations. In order to do so effectively and within a safe and legal framework your library should have written policies and procedures in place with which you are familiar.

The introduction of public access to the Internet generated numerous articles in library journals and the popular press. Some focused on the positive aspects of Internet access, but many others focused on the issue of pornography. Libraries in general were quick to respond to concerns and many developed acceptable Internet usage policies. The Canadian Library Association adopted a policy statement on Internet access, and the issue of filtering became, and still is, a topic of controversy.

Fewer libraries, and particularly Canadian libraries, seem to have widely known written policies on acceptable patron behavior in general, available for viewing over the net. Public libraries that do include such policies are the Regina Public Library and the public library in Barrie, Ontario The Vancouver Island Regional System under section 4.1 of its Board Policy manual also sets forth “rules of conduct” [p.38].

Canadian university libraries with specific codes of conduct for library patrons viewable on the net include Queen’s University, and the University of Toronto

Common to all the public library documents are statements regarding the supervision of children, prohibition of smoking, and of animals (except for service dogs), as well as posting of notices, and soliciting, or selling items without prior approval. The Regina Public Library document is formatted as a bylaw and specifically states:
Patrons shall not exhibit rude or disorderly behavior while on Public Library premises by making undue noise, physical disruption, being intoxicated, being verbally abusive, engaging in sexual misconduct or harassment, stalking, voyeurism, or otherwise interfere with another’s use and enjoyment of the Public Library pursuant to The Criminal Code where applicable.
The University of Toronto document has a list of thirteen prohibited activities which includes:
In academic libraries some of the common problem situations that arise are:
  • Students who have left completion of a library based assignment to the last minute and find needed materials are checked out. This situation may lead to verbal abuse of staff.
  • Faculty who try to intimidate library staff into bending rules because they see themselves and their work as more “important” than rules (e.g. asking you for the name of the person who has an item out on loan that they want). Refusal to do so may lead to verbal abuse and/or threats of going over your head.
In addition, more serious incidents such as stalking or flashing are a possibility.

Public libraries too have their own problem situations such as:
  • Unattended children.
  • Street people who may be smelly, drunk, on drugs, mentally ill, etc.
  • Sexual deviants such as pedophiles, and flashers.
  • Self important people who because of their position or who they claim to know feel that the standard library rules should not apply to them.
  • Lonely people who monopolize staff time.
Knowing what behaviours are unacceptable is only one part of the “problem patron” issue. The other part is how you as a member of the library staff should deal with it. Dalhousie University Library’s Social Sciences & Humanities Services Policy Statement provides three guidelines:
  1. Do not argue with the patron. Remain calm and polite and resist any temptation to exchange words regardless of the provocation. Listen to the grievance. If it cannot be resolved, refer the individual to the Head of Social Sciences & Humanities Reference Services or other appropriate library staff.
  2. Be familiar with, understand, and be able to explain library rules, regulations, policies and practices.
  3. Exercise patience in dealing with a person who feels that rules, regulations, policies or practices do not apply to him/her, explaining the reason for their existence and the importance of consistent adherence to them.
Safety for ourselves, our patrons and our co-workers is a paramount concern when faced with a problem situation. We must be able to distinguish between what is a nuisance behavior and what is threatening. In terms of handling problem situations the following are some general guidelines.
  1. Assess the situation.
    • Listen carefully and determine if action is required. If so, then
  2. Respond quickly.>
    • Ignoring a situation in hopes that it will go away usually doesn’t work. It just allows the problem to become greater.
  3. Take precautions.
    • Have a backup plan in place e.g. alert other staff members their help may be needed; if alone, ensure you have a clear path to the exit.
  4. Remain calm and courteous.
    • Speak slowly and clearly and don’t raise your voice.
    • Do not argue but keep focused on matter at hand.
    • Avoid use of homour, sarcasm, or personal remarks.
  5. Allow a person to vent verbally if possible.
  6. Offer a choice of actions or alternatives if possible.
  7. Respect personal space.
    • Keep your distance physically.
  8. Be aware of your body language.
    • Stand slightly to one side not directly in front of the person (a non confrontational position).
    • Avoid hand gestures that might be interpreted as aggressive.
  9. Do not physically touch a patron.
    • Never try to restrain or detain a person by physical means.
  10. Use common sense.
  11. Document the incident.
A potentially serious incident which resolves itself favourably should not be dismissed and forgotten about. The situation could arise again with a not so favourable outcome. All incidents should be documented preferably on an incident report form. Check the following sites for sample incident report forms:

Health and Safety Homepages. “Sample Incident Report Form.” 21 May 2002.

Cleveland State University Library. “Incident Report.” 21 May 2002.

Waukesha Public Library. “Incident/Accident Report Form.” Problem Behavior Procedures. 1 May 2000. 21 May 2002.


In their book, Communicating Professionally, Ross and Dewdney state: “The communication skills that are most useful in problem situations are listening; nonverbal skills including tone of voice and gestures; confrontation; and giving directions – to both users and staff” (127). They go on to say: “Confrontation is a skill that works well for changing behavior that is unacceptable or disruptive but not dangerous” (127). The method they describe is known as DESC, and is one they see as being highly useful with students who are misbehaving.

The DESC technique was developed by Sharon Anthony Bower as a method for solving interpersonal conflict. The acronym stands for:
DescribeDescribe the other person's behavior objectively.
Use concrete terms.
Describe a specified time, place, and frequency of the action.
Describe the action, not the "motive".
Express your feelings (or Explain why the behavior is not acceptable).
Express your feelings calmly.
State feelings in a positive manner, as relating to a goal to be achieved.
Direct yourself to the specific offending behavior.
SpecifySpecify how you would like the behavior to change.
Consequences State the good consequences as well as the bad consequences or punishment from complying or not complying with your request.
The following scenario is an example of how the DESC technique can be applied to an unacceptable situation.
DescribeYou have an open soft drink next to the computer terminal.
Explain/Express As you can see from the posted signs, the library has a policy of no food or drink anywhere in the library except in the lounge.
SpecifyPlease take the drink to the lounge to finish it.
Consequences Once you have disposed of the drink, you may come back to the terminal. If you do not take it to the lounge I will have to ask you to leave the library.

Sometimes it may be necessary to repeat the scenario if the patron has not complied.
DescribeI see you still have an open soft drink next to the computer terminal.
Explain/Express You are violating the library policy of no food or drink anywhere in the library except for in the lounge.
SpecifyPlease leave the library now.
Consequences If you do not leave I will call security.
Further information
There are numerous documents available on the Web that deal with the issue of problem situations. Some that contain practical advice and tips which you might wish to look at are:

Edwards-Alrich, Barbara. Problem Patrons & Situations Training Module. 25 Sept. 2000. 21 May 2002.
Contains seven problem patron scenarios and responses plus crisis prevention tips. Derived from a staff training session at Southern State Community College.

Indiana State University Library. “Problem Patrons and All That…” General Policies Manual for Student Assistants. 27 Feb. 2001. Contains practical suggestions for dealing with a variety of situations front line public services staff may encounter.

Yale University Library. “Guidelines to Respond to Problem Behavior.” 12 mar. 2001. 21 May 2002.

Works cited
American Library Association. Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures Regarding User Behavior and Library Usage. 2 Dec. 2000. 9 Apr. 2001.

Bower, Sharon Anthony and Gordon H. Bower. Asserting Yourself: A Guide for Positive Change. Updated ed. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1991.

Canadian Library Association. CLA Statement on Internet Access. Rev. Feb 2000. 3 Feb. 2010.

Dalhousie University Killam Library. Social Sciences & Humanities Services Policy Statement. 12 Jan. 1998. 21 May 2001.

Mandel, Charles. “Homeless Patrons Pose Challenges for Libraries.” Quill & Quire. 65.5 (May 1999): 12. CBCA. WebSPIRS. Red River College Library. 9 Apr. 2001.

Ontario Library Service. Library Board Orientation Kit – 2004. Toronto: Ontario Library Service, 2004. 5 Apr. 2004.

Regina Public Library. Bylaw #1: A Bylaw Relating Generally to the Safe Use and Conduct of the Affairs of the Regina Public Library. 18 June 1996. 5 Apr. 2004.

Shuman, Bruce A. “Down and Out in the Reading Room: The Homeless in the Public Library.” Patron Behavior in Libraries: A Handbook of Positive Approaches to Negative Situations. Ed. Beth McNeil and Denise J. Johnson. Chicago: American Library Association, 1996.

University of Toronto. Conduct Regulations, University of Toronto Libraries. 21 May 2002.

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick, and Patricia Dewdney. Communicating Professionally: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Library Applications. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998.

Vancouver Island Regional Library. Board Policy. Updated October 2007. Accessed 3 Feb. 2010.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tips for handling complaints

Remain calm. Never argue or negotiate. Speak quietly. Be pleasant, no matter what the user says.

Listen. Let the user blow off steam.

Don’t take complaints personally. Complaints are directed at the system. Taking them personally leads to burnout.

Don’t give your own opinion or tell a story about something similar that has happened to you. Self-disclosure is a skill that is often inappropriate for handling complaints: either the user will become impatient or will feel encouraged to describe more complaints.

Know when a complaint is beyond your control: refer quickly and accurately.

When you receive repeated complaints about something outside of your control and for which there seems to be no appropriate procedure or referral it’s time to discuss the problem at a staff meeting.
(Ross, C. S. and P. Dewdney. Communicating Professionally. 1989. p. 128.)

Tips for potentially dangerous situations
Be alert. Initial signals for a problem situation include: users moving away from another user; users starting at someone; and users looking at staff as a form of complaint.

Stay calm. You may be able to defuse the situation or at least prevent if from escalating.

Do not speak loudly, use patronizing phrases, or make sudden gestures.

Act immediately.

Know the appropriate agency to call. If possible, use a signal system so that an assistant can call the police quickly and quietly.

Ask other users and staff to move away from the disturbed person for their safety.

Do not attempt to prevent the person from leaving the library.

File an incident report.
(Ross, C. S. and P. Dewdney. Communicating Professionally. 1989. p. 133.)

General guidelines
Use common sense.
Remain calm and impersonal.
Use teamwork.
Set limits and stick to them.
Don’t argue with outrageous statements.
Be explicit.
Offer choice of actions.
Avoid remarks.
Be considerate.
Don’t try to restrain.

Difficult situations: suggested readings
Salter, C.A., and J.L. Salter. On the Frontlines: Coping with the Library’s Problem Patrons. 1988. (Z679.6 .S28)

Smith, Kitty. Serving the Difficult Customer. 1993. (Z711 .S66)

Turner, A.M. It Comes with the Territory: Handling Problem Situations in Libraries. 1993. (Z711 .T87)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Defusing the angry patron

Defusing the angry patron
by Rhea Joyce Rubin.
Library Mosaics, May/June 2003, pp. 14-15.

Coping with people who are angry is always difficult for many reasons. Often we feel that it isn’t part of the job description. Anger is contagious and it’s hard to face all that emotion and not get upset. Many times we feel that we don’t get the management support we need; we know many of the irritants which anger patrons but library administration don’t fix them. And so on. But the fact is that we must serve annoyed, frustrated, grouchy, or downright mad people every day we work on a service desk. So here are some tips to make it easier.

First, it helps to know a little bit about anger. These three insights into anger suggest ways we can calm people down.

  • It’s not about you. Rarely is anger about you. A patron is upset because of library policies or procedures, the building or equipment, technology or the Internet. A customer is frustrated because of long lines or noisy kids or indifferent staff members. Or the person comes to the library already annoyed and braced for an argument. In none of these common situations is the patron mad at you, the frontline staff. So don’t take it personally. Instead, repeat this mantra: “It’s not about me.” If you can keep from taking it personally, you will stay calm and be able to focus on the patron rather than your own defense.
  • Anger is a secondary emotion. What this means is that anger is almost always a cover for another emotion. We see an angry person but he or she is really embarrassed, scared or hurt. Keeping that in mind can help you decide how to lower the patron’s anger. For example, a woman approaches the circulation desk with her three children in tow. When you tell her she owes $5.00 in fines she becomes belligerent. Probably she is embarrassed to have her children hear that she’s less than a model library user and parent; she does not want her children to see her as someone who owes fines. So, if you can reduce the embarrassment you can avoid the angry interaction. Is there a way you can tell her about the fines without her children there? Or can you give that information in written form so the children don’t have to know about it? A second example is a senior professor who yells at staff when she’s told that she cannot take out a certain book from the college library. She probably feels that her position entitles her to special privileges and she is being disrespected. Is there a way to show her extra respect so that she retains her dignity even if she cannot borrow that book? A third example is a teenager who becomes incensed when told of a fine. He may be frightened that his parents will find out and that he will be punished because he does not have the cash to pay a fine. Is there a way to reduce his fear by explaining the confidentiality of his record and alternate ways of paying off the fines?
  • Anger is in the body. Anger has many physiological components. The body reacts instinctively and quickly when it perceives danger – and high emotion such as anger is interpreted as danger. The body moves into a “fight or flight” stance, which means that it prepares to either fight with the hands or run with the legs. Blood is pulled away from the brain, the stomach, and other systems and sent to the limb. The heart rate and pulse accelerates, blood pressure rises and digestion stops. This is why people get headaches and stomach aches during or after a highly emotional situation. More importantly, the flow of blood away from the brain means that people cannot think clearly or rationally when they are angry. It is essential to give an upset patron time to realize that he or she is not in danger and to calm down before presenting rational solutions.

Now for my five golden rules on coping with angry patrons:

  1. Greet the patron in a warm, friendly, welcoming manner, even if he or she looks upset. By speaking first you set the tone for the interaction.
  2. Show sympathy for the patron’s situation. Most patrons assume staff are not on their side. When you are sympathetic about the frustration of incorrect computer records or broken photocopiers, the customer will be relieved and will calm down. Showing sympathy does not mean that you approve of a patron’s behavior if he or she screams at you or throws a book across the counter; it simply acknowledges the situation and emotion of the person.
  3. Listen carefully and attentively. Be sure you let the patron know that you are listening by nodding, murmuring “hmm,” or repeating back part of what you’ve heard. By listening you are showing respect for the customer and her or his problem which, again, shows that you are on the same “side” as she or he. It also allows the patron a chance to get it out and calm down while giving you time to think of a solution.
  4. Never argue. No matter how tempting it is to prove that you (or the library) are right, you can never win by arguing with a patron. You may think you’ve won a specific round, but the patron will become more unhappy and tell others about his or her mistreatment by staff. And other people in the library will witness what looks like an unsympathetic and combative attitude on your part. So, do whatever you can to avoid arguing. This usually means disagreeing diplomatically. For example, “you may be right?” Or “I never thought of it that way.”
  5. Apologize. An authentic “I’m sorry” can make almost any patron feel better (and therefore calm down). You can apologize for the immediate situation (“I’m sorry you feel that way. Let’s find a way to solve this for you.”). If you are uncomfortable saying, “I’m saying there’s a wait for the Internet stations. You know our budget was cut in half this year and computer workstations are very expensive so…” In most cases, the patron does not care about the library’s situation, only what you can do for him or her.

This is all easier than it sounds. If you can stay calm and not defend yourself or argue, you can focus on the other person. By listening and being attentive, you can usually find something about the situation which does arouse your sympathy and for which you can apologize for on the library’s behalf. At that point, most patrons have recognized that you are concerned for their satisfaction with the library and that you are going to try to help; that leads them to calm down and respond rationally and civilly.

Rhea Joyce Rubin is an independent library consultant who divides her time between consulting and training. Now based in California, Rubin originally learned how to cope with confrontational people while setting up library service in the Cook County Jails (Chicago) in the 1970s. “Defusing the Angry Patron” is her most popular workshop topic and is the title of her forthcoming book, due from Neal-Schumann Publishers in late 1999.