My husband and I went of town over this past weekend, to different places, so we carpooled to the airport. He arrived back into town before I did, so he decided to move our car from long-term parking to hourly parking. He kept his long term parking receipt because he intended to submit it for a work expense. When we left the hourly parking garage, he mistook his long-term parking receipt for his hourly garage ticket and tried to give it to the parking attendant. The attendant pointed out my husband's mistake and, after searching his wallet and his pockets, he finally found the hourly ticket. He gave it to the woman and we were able to get out of the garage.
Sounds like a perfectly reasonable exchange, right?
Hardly. The woman's reaction to my husband's mistake was...overwhelming. She snapped and snarled, snatched the money out of his hand, and made the interaction really unpleasant.
Really bad customer service experiences stick with me and this particular experience made me think about how we in Libraries deal with the people we encounter every day.
Some of our users are difficult, either on purpose or because it's who they are. The truth is that there are just people in this world who require more patience to deal with than others. And as long as there are libraries, there will be difficult patrons.
But it's not just our users. Our colleagues can be challenging, too. We're never fast enough at answering email or finishing our portion of a project. And when our workplaces have cliques, the alienation we might feel at the hands of our colleagues can cut us to the quick.
I believe that how we handle difficult situations (and the people who present them) is unbelievably important. Some days it feels like Librarianship is full of the kindest souls with the best of intentions and other days it feels like it's full of the meanest, snarkiest people. How we present ourselves has a direct impact on how our users view us. Is our library a friendly, welcoming place? Or is it full of cranky people and passive-aggressive signage? Do we work together to put the needs of the user first? Or are we a library of silos, looking out only for ourselves?
This is not to say that libraries or the people who staff them should have to smile in the faces of people who threaten or harass them. Libraries should be welcoming, but they should also be safe. People who threaten or harass library workers, or otherwise create unsafe environments, should not be welcome in our spaces.
But we should strive to be kinder to those who pose no threat to us, but who try our patience. Our attitudes and actions makes as much of an impact on our users as do the collections and services we offer. And when we are kind to our colleagues, I think that shines through to our users too. Even if it's not immediately apparent, I think it shows in how seamlessly a library functions.
Being kind to our patrons and to our colleagues matters.