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Some patrons simply enjoy long conversations while others would like library staff to file their taxes. Service suffers when one patron monopolizes limited available public library staff. Learning how to disengage from patrons contributes to an increase in overall service if a staff members are able to better assist all patrons and attend to their regular duties.

The American Libraries Magazine published “New Trends in Library Security,” an article that provides guidance on knowing when and how to move on to helping other patrons, as well as suggestions to guide library staff in the gentle art of disengagement from helping “unsatistifed tax advice seekers,” and “entitled patrons.”

Find five steps below to help you empower patrons with information before moving onto a new patron or task.

First, find and practice a transition phrase that works for you:

  • I’m sorry, I have to help other patrons.
  • I have to help other patrons, but here is a resource to help you get started in finding…
  • Here is a list of local attorneys, legal websites, and a copy of Wisconsin State Statutes. I am unable to help you with personal legal matters.
  • Here is a list of local healthcare providers, quality health websites, and the health section of our collection. I am unable to provide you with personal health care advice.
  • Here is a list of local accountants, Federal and State tax websites, and the Federal and State tax forms and their guides with all the information you need to file your taxes. I am not an accountant and am unable to help you file your taxes.

Second, prepare printed resource guides that you can hand to your patrons instead of leaving them empty-handed as you walk away. Ask your colleagues what topics they encounter most frequently.

Third, be firm but polite if the patron re-engages you or your colleague for assistance.

Fourth, support your colleagues if you observe that they are trying to disengage from a patron.

Fifth, and most importantly, know when to involve the police. never hesitate to call the police (especially if you are working alone) if you feel threatened. It is the job of the police to keep you safe. You never have to handle a threatening situation alone.

Additionally, there are public resources librarians can refer patrons when resolving an uncomfortable request that might lead to revealing a librarian’s personal information or putting personal property at risk.

For your safety, do not ever:

  • Give personal information to a patron.
  • Meet a patron after hours alone.
  • Give patrons a ride in your personal vehicle.

Resources

ALA. Safety and Security.

Graham, Warren. The Blackbelt Librarian: Real-World Safety & Security.

Otis, Edmond. Setting Boundaries with Library Patrons. Infopeople.

Richards, Tricia. Dealing with Difficult Patrons. The PR Dept.

Web Junction. Difficult Patron Behavior: Success Stories from the Web Junction Community.