Sunday, July 28, 2013

Library Behavior

When I teach students to be librarians or train new librarians I tell them we are in public service and part of job to smile, be welcoming, and offer to help. We are there to help the students, not present stumbling blocks to their effort to learn. Sometimes library users need to be reminded that their behavior is negatively affecting others in the library. Sometime we need to remind librarians and library staff of why we are here. The stereotypical librarian behavior is the asking people to be quiet. This is done because people come to the library and expect a quiet place to learn, read or do research.

Last week a friend, who is a librarian for a k-8 school, (I’ll call her Librarian C) attended a conference with several teachers from her school at Harvard University. Every summer Harvard runs conferences for educators, librarians, and scholars attracting the eager learners and giving them access to the top brains from Harvard. Attendees come back invigorated. Harvard is very protective of its brand and name. Harvard indoctrinates graduates into special place in the academic world. Attendees of conferences only get a taste of the Harvard Crimson. (I am not a Harvard graduate, but I once visited the campus with my family. My children declined to even apply.)

Many of the sessions that Librarian C attended met at the School of Education’s Gutman Library ( .
As you can see in the picture the entrance has two doors. One is intended for those going in and the other for exiting. There are no signs to indicate this. Harvard Libraries has doorkeepers to check people coming in or going out. One morning of the conference Librarian C and her colleagues entered the door and the doorkeeper said, “You just entered the out door.” The doorkeeper made of these people who were professionals from many schools, go out the door and return via the entrance door. Librarian C went to the doorkeeper and said that she was a librarian and your behavior gives librarians a bad name. The doorkeeper said that she was only doing what they told her was her job.

 I can understand if traffic patterns are established for optimal entrance and exit speed, one should follow them. From the description given by Librarian C it did not seem this was a case to make more efficient movement. When I was in elementary school the stairs had monitors to help movement and make the staircases safe and efficient. Children who did not follow the rules were forced to go back downstairs and come up again. Rarely did children need reminding a second time. The Gutman Library doorkeeper was incorrectly interpreting the rules. The purpose of rules is to insure optimal library operations, not demean your public.

 The main research library at Harvard is of Widener Library, which also houses the library administration. Librarian C wanted to go visit. Widener like other Harvard Libraries restricts entrance to Harvard affiliates and other special classes such as visiting scholars and alumni. This restriction is quite common for private universities. Since they allow faculty from other universities to enter upon proper identification, I would have no trouble entering. Librarian C is a school librarian and she forgot her school ID. At the door they asked if her school library had a website with her name listed. They looked up the web site and this became her ID. However, her teacher-colleague was denied entrance and Librarian C couldn’t enter the stacks.

 Contrast this professional visit with the patrons who visited my community college library last Friday. For the first hour it was so quiet the buzz of the light fixtures and the clicking of the keyboards could be heard. Later some parents brought their infants to the library. Theoretically this allowed as long as the babies do make too much noise. “Too much” is open to interpretation. The babies were not crying, but they were making baby talk sounds. Because the population of the school we have to be more tolerant than private universities. I did go over to the infants to make sure they were ok, but eventually I had to ask them to leave because of excessive noise. As soon as I walked over the mothers realized why I was there and I did not have to say much. One baby was cute and even offered me her sticky hand to shake. I politely said that I don’t shake sticky hands. One baby made noise in the hall and this was just as bad. The stone floor and brick walls of the hall reverberate and amplify the sound and it comes back into the library louder than when sound is muffled by the library carpet and furniture. I wonder why parents would bring children to the library and not bring them something to do. What’s a poor baby who can’t read supposed to do in a library? None of the babies had any toys to play with and I didn’t have any to lend them.

Sometimes I wish that I had the power that some patrons think I should have. I patron who self identified as non-student wanted me to help her with her Facebook password. She called across the room for me to go to her station. I informed her that this behavior was disrespectful and she should have come to the reference desk. She pointed to her four inch wooden platform shoes and complained that she couldn’t walk that far. Hmm she walked into the library. Why would someone buy shoes that are so hard to walk in? She had the computer screen from Facebook for password recovery. I pointed where she had to enter her e-mail address and let Facebook send her the recover instructions. The patron said that she could not remember her email password either. (I thought, if I could tell her the password, the system would be very insecure.)

Another library user wanted help attaching a file to an email. I have never used Yahoo email, but I found the clip icon that indicated attach a file. He clicked on it and a browser window opened with the files. He wanted me to tell him which file to attach because he forgot the name. The file was a picture and I couldn’t read his mind. I showed him how to view thumbnails of the pictures. Not knowing the file name I suggested that he should write down the name. He found the file and it had a two letter name, which he dutifully wrote down, returned to the email client and was able to attach it. Now he wanted help to send it to his friend and wanted me to tell him the address. I draw the line at knowing private email addresses.

A faculty member came with a question really was within my power to answer. He wanted to be able to access the library databases from home. I checked his account and needed to edit some parts to make sure that he had access. I gave him directions for logging in his account and I hope that helps him. It’s all in a day’s work. Sometimes we help and sometimes we’re expected to have knowledge beyond human abilities. We just keep smiling and look for the positive side of human behavior. 

1 comment:

Scott said...

I understand. Sometimes you just have to vent.