Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stop! Take some time to think, figure out what's important to you.

Yesterday, I had mentally prepared a blog post for today about assessment and building a culture of assessment. I'll probably still write that blog post, but something else surfaced between the time I'd decided on assessment as a blog topic and the time I put fingers to keys to write this post that made me decide to change up my topic.

Yesterday, author Tessa Dare tweeted:
I totally agree with Ms. Dare and I retweeted her tweet. I added another tweet after hers:
For whatever else librarianship is, I believe it's customer service work. Our job as librarians is to help connect our users with the resources they need. Whether you work the front lines of the library or the back rooms, we all have a role to play in serving our library's users. And like most kinds of customer service work, helping library patrons can be frustrating. I think we librarians would be living in a perfect world if we weren't honest about the fact that every library has problem patrons and difficult situations. But despite what everyone has told you about how library work is reading books all the time and telling people to "shhhh!," this kind of customer service work is what we signed up for when we decided we want to work in libraries.

Knowing what we signed up for, I think it's ill advised for us as librarians to mock, ridicule, look down on our users for the services they use, the material they check out, or how they conduct themselves while they're in our libraries. It teaches people that libraries aren't a welcoming place and that librarians aren't welcoming people. It teaches people that they have to look a certain way, act a certain way, or read a certain type of materials in order to be invited into the library community. If librarians truly believe that libraries are for everyone in the communities they serve, we shouldn't ask our users to pass a test--implicit or explicit--to be welcome in our spaces. Furthermore, when we choose to mock a particular user group for the choices they're making, I would challenge us (myself included) to think about who we're choosing to mock. I could be wrong, but I would venture to guess that most of the time the users who get our ridicule are not the white, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied among us. Instead, I would guess that more often than not it's users from marginalized communities--the people who may not have the tools to code switch and become the kind of people think is worthy of using your library's collections and service.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't set expectations for how our users should behave in our library spaces or to develop collection policies to cover what we will and won't purchase for our users. But even when we make those choices, I think we should agree that we should treat our library users with respect--even when we're holding them accountable for the ways in which they've broken the rules we've established for library use.

But Erin, you're thinking, what about those times when I need to blow off steam or vent about a situation? What about those stories that are too good not to tell?

Look, I get it. It's totally normal to need to have a release valve for those problem patrons or difficult situations. I'm not advocating that you have to be perfect all the time. If you need to talk something through, find a trusted colleague or network of colleagues and talk about those situations in private--in person or by email. If you want to tell a story, tell it in your break room or your staff-only areas where you are certain that a library user can't hear you. The point is: if you air your library's dirty laundry in public, you risk losing the trust and support of your community.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, I'll admit. So let's all decide together that this is too important not to work through.

Stay positive,

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