Our professor gave us some scenarios to consider that are rare but quite possible encounters for public librarians.
You want me to sign you up for WHAT?
You are the children’s librarian in the public library. A group of teenage boys comes up and asks to be registered for toddler storytime. They tell you that they also signed up for an upcoming menopause class and a retirement planning meeting. You’ve seen these boys around and have a good rapport, so you ask them to confide in you. They tell you that they are protesting the lack of “good” programming for YAs. You want to defend your peer, but privately you completely agree with the teens. How do you respond?
In this case, I would share a good laugh with the boys. I would thank them for thinking about addressing this gap in our service in the library and that they haven't given up on us. I would tell them, though their thoughts are appreciated, their plan would be rather counterproductive. I would tell them to give me a couple of days to pull some stats together and have an emergency meeting with my colleagues to see what we can do. We could install a suggestion box. I would think about other outreach methods, perhaps a dedicated computer station in a private space with a webcam to record video/audio recommendations during the time teens tend to come in. Using a survey (with prizes) and working with school teachers and other local youth organizations to find new programming ideas are some alternatives as well. They boys are welcome to join (or revitalize the library youth advisory group. If there is no such group, I could explain the model of how it works and ask them if they are interested in joining.
Volunteerism or, But I have a Master’s Degree!
You’ve only been in this job for seven months, and already you can count 23 times that someone has commented on how nice it is of you to volunteer at the library. Sometimes you respond with humor, sometimes you jump into a long and detailed story about your educational history, but today you are ready to snap. You aren’t blaming the patron, but you do need a good script that you can use in the future. You are also wondering if there is some way to change the local image of librarians on a larger scale too…What should you do?
I've ran into similar situations for a couple of time at the school I work. Substitute librarians and main office secretaries assumed I was a visitor to the school. I always replied with a smile, "I work here! Isn't it great?" Twenty-three times in 7 months sounds unbearable. In this case, one could also say, "I started working here this year after getting my master degree in library science. I'm so proud to be here everyday and help people in our community. I answer about X questions in any given day, [list some other visible and none visible responsibilities]. Please let me know how I can help."
Tattoos and pants, oh my!
A man comes up to the circulation desk with a stack of children’s books. As you are checking them out he licks his finger, reaches over to your arm, and “pretends” to wipe off your small tattoo. As you stare at him in horror, he tells you that he thinks tattoos are vile and crass and that no one should work in the children’s room that has one. He also tells you that he thinks it is undignified to be wearing pants, and they would have hired a man if they wanted a masculine figure. Other than throwing the books at his head, what can you do?
I considered having a visible tattoo. The only reason I don't have one yet is I can't decide what I want to have. I considered having a little flower tattooed to my wrist, because that's what my mother's name means. If a person comes to me while I was helping a patron and pretend to wipe the flower tattoo off of my writes, I would be infuriated. I would keep checking out books and say to the man, "I believe in the value of not judging a book by it's cover. I pour my heart and soul into helping this community and I think that's what matter the most. The way you shared your personal judgement is rather hurtful." Then, I would turn to the patron I was helping to check out and apologize for involving him/her in this awkward situation. If the man would choose to stand in front of the circulation desk feeling offended or seem to have something else to add. I would have to call a senior (and respected) colleague out to deal with the situation. "Given that I feel very offended already, I don't think I am in the best condition to carry on this conversation. I hope you understand. Would you like to talk to my colleague (or manager if appropriate)?" I don't think I would expect or go about demanding an apology from the man.