Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Your library visit is over

Dealing with problem patrons is never easy. Depending on the situation, you can appear too lax on your policies or too restrictive where people don't want to use the library at all. (You know the whole shushing thing :)

Some people need the cop called on them and others just need a firm talking to. Going up to teens and making up some reason to ban them will deter other teens from using the library. Some people might say, "Well good then". Those people are wrong.There has to be a balance between just kicking someone out for being loud and dealing with behavior that requires police action. Not every teen is some criminal.

We had the same problem that every library across the country all seem to have, too many after school teens and too much noise. We ended up having a police officer come over and talk to us on how to handle everything from too loud patrons to potentially violent ones. After studying the issue and looking at other libraries, we realized that our problems were not so bad. We came up with a soft approach strategy, in which, problem patrons had their pins reset so they couldn't use the internet.

Why was this the key issue? The internet is the biggest carrot of library services. Theprocess did several things:

1.The process was non-confrontational. A problem patron was pointed out, he or she was warned, then documented, and finally their pin reset. Staff only had to give one warning.

2. The process engaged the problem patron. They were forced to talk to the library manager in order to have their pin reset. The patron's record was reviewed when they came to see the manager, much like going to the principal's office. We let them know the consequences if the problems continued.

3. The process empowered staff. They did not have to call me in order to do this. They identified the problem and took action. The staff are so smart about this. They know the problem and are empowered to act, the best of both worlds.

4. The process weeded out problem people without having to even argue the issue. Most of the real problem patrons were not using their own card. When they came to reset the pin, and the person who was obviously over 18 and male had a juvenile card with a female name, they fess up pretty quick. We don't allow people to use other patron's cards.

5. The process weeded out the leaders. In a group, one person can set the tone. If they are roudy, so is the group.

6. We had to rely on the police less. Calling the cops on teenagers that are too loud just seems wrong. What message does that tell them, being a teenager is a crime?

I can't say whether this approach works best, but its working so far. Problem patrons either leave or shape up. Its better than their library visit being over before it begins.

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