Last semester I read Defusing the Angry Patron for one of my grad school classes. It contains great practical advice for librarians (and teachers too) who must cope with confrontational patrons/parents who are upset about one thing or another in the library. Often these patrons are upset about the content of some book and feel the offensive material should be removed and the librarian should remove it right now! Other times patrons are frustrated with library policy or procedure.
Though I’ve been a library patron since age two, I was never an angry patron until the other day when I discovered that my library account is “delinquent.” When I asked why, I was informed that I caused “severe water damage” to a book and my account is delinquent “pending assessment of a fine.”
Me: What? Which book? How is that possible? May I see this alleged water damage?
The woman working at the circulation desk avoided eye contact with me throughout our whole conversation. She explained to her computer screen that when I returned the book (nearly two months ago) she remembers that it was “very damaged.” She personally marked it as such and flagged my account. The book was then returned to its home library and is apparently sitting in some inbox until a tech services person decides how much to charge me for it.
Clearly this librarian(?) needs to read Defusing the Angry Patron. She demonstrated terrible nonverbal communication skills and used “the library F word.”
No one contacted me about this at all and it was somewhat accidental that I even discovered the status of my account in the first place. I guess this library does not contact patrons regarding damaged materials—at least not in a timely manner. That’s a poor policy if ever there was one.
I did not water damage this book. In fact I barely even opened the book; I only borrowed it so I could check something on the copyright page. I returned it in precisely the condition it was lent to me; I don’t remember it being damaged when I checked it out (and I would notice such a thing—I’ve worked in circulation too and I know how to take care of books!).
I’ve twice called the book’s home library and gotten the run around because they’re backed up and don’t know when they’ll get around to looking at this book.
Meanwhile, “DELINQUENT” appears across the top of the screen whenever I log into my library account or try to check out other books.
Grrrrrr. Right now I’m about as happy with the library as I am with insurance companies and if I were just another patron I’d be done with this public library. I’m that frustrated by this incident.
Sadly, this is one of the big reasons why public libraries lose patrons: a combination of poor communication and poor policy/procedure.
To my fellow LIS students and library friends, let’s please do better!