Protecting Patrons in the Library

Yesterday, the amazing Miss Julie posted an important reminder of how we should all conduct ourselves online when it comes to patron privacy. What I love about this post and the responses that it inspired is that it makes us face a continuing human flaw with humility. Most of us probably struggle with casting judgment on the people in our lives and most of us probably don’t express our frustration or opinions in the right place or in the right way 100% of the time. I know I have posted some things and then thought, maybe a few minutes later, “I’m not proud that I posted that. I’m going to delete it.” It’s so important to constantly ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing the best thing for me right now AND the most considerate way I can handle this?”

I want to take a few moments to expand on this idea of protecting patrons’ privacy by asking us to consider the way we speak and act inside the library as well.

Gossip in the library is something I don’t tolerate. Not as a supervisor, not as a co-worker, not even as a spouse while my husband is visiting. Not behind closed doors or at my very public desk. It just doesn’t fly with me. As a branch manager working at a small branch in a small town in the South, I know too well that people are always listening and that at every moment, I set the tone for how to treat people in my libraries. If I have something funny to say to my teammate about an encounter with a patron, I save it for when we’re closing up and walking out. Even then, I make it clear that while people irritate me, I still care for them. Since we see a lot of the same people and know almost everyone by name, we are able to vent with love for the people that we see more often than we see our own families.

Protecting my patrons’ privacy, for me, also extends to protecting their dignity.

It’s not always about what I say, but it’s also what I don’t say or do. One of my branches is very close to a women’s shelter, an adult assisted living facility, and a special education school. We see patrons who are dealing with substance abuse, are differently-abled or intellectually challenged, and also lots of people who, for one reason or another, just act in socially awkward ways. These patrons might show up drunk or high, make unusual sounds, smell a bit ripe, wear what some people would consider too little clothing, interrupt me while I’m helping other people, or show any number of concerning behaviors. Being a human, of course I’m aggravated or offended sometimes, but I intentionally treat these people in the exact same way I treat my most average and treasured patrons. Everyone is equal. As long as more worrisome patrons aren’t causing a disturbance and they’re being respectful to me and my teammate (or as respectful as they can be), I help them and leave them be. (As a small aside: I don’t call the police. I never would unless someone posed a physical threat or verbally assailed me in a way I couldn’t handle. I never want to be the person responsible for possibly sending a patron back to jail or causing them to be handled roughly, physically or verbally. The exception being a known sexual offender, I cringe from hearing stories of librarians who call the police anytime they spot someone acting “suspicious.” That’s not the kind of person or librarian that I am and that’s certainly not the spirit of the library. When approached with care, the vast majority of people will respond to what you’re saying or choose to leave.)

I also stop patrons and co-workers from making comments about others or passing judgment aloud. When someone approaches me to check-out and begins to describe how a patron smells or how their sounds are annoying, I just shut it down. I might simply say something like, “you know, it takes all types.” I might just abruptly change the subject. In some cases, I’ve said, “let’s not gossip,” accompanied by a disapproving expression.

It’s a small thing that makes SO much difference. Sometimes your care results in a patron experiencing greater quality of life, and sometimes it improves tolerance in your community. I’ll just give you one example to close out.

Over the summer, my smaller branch had a visitor who was…not so much homeless as something of a bohemian. He was passing through our tiny town and found that sitting right outside the library doors was a pretty good deal for him. He wasn’t allowed inside only because he had a dog with him, but he found a shady spot to sit off to the side of the entrance and enjoyed talking to some of the teens who found him fascinating. In my brief interactions with him, I found him to be very intelligent, but he was scruffy and a little smelly from baking in the heat, and lots of patrons considered him unsavory. A few people called the police and he was visited a few times a day while they were patrolling the parking lot. I handled the situation by having a talk with my teammate at this branch. I told him we had to be very careful to treat him as an equal and to not allow anyone to say damaging things about him. While an officer was having a talk with him, I made sure that I had something to carry to my car and casually stopped to say that we were happy that he had a comfortable place to hang out with us and said I couldn’t imagine how he could bother anyone. The police left him alone for awhile after that. That night, he came back to the library without his dog and I welcomed inside. He was very grateful, but I noticed he was cursing and reminded him that we had children in the building and asked him to use his filters. He obliged, but the teachers who were volunteering for a program that night were very shaken by him. As I was sitting with them, I noticed them giving him a lot of side eye and tucking their purses closer to their chairs. Every time he spoke to me or asked for help, they raised their lips a little or arched their brows at things he said. I, on the other hand, just went on with my business as though I didn’t notice anything unusual at all. When it was time to close, he respectfully shut down his computer and he and I had pleasant conversation on the way out about how rural towns often have closed minds. I waved goodbye to him and to the teachers who helped me, who never said a word against him, though their actions said different.

And that’s it. That’s the grand story of tolerance and respect in the library. People who clearly disapproved said nothing to me and that was a big success. I don’t know if the police genuinely lightened up on him or if they just thought they had better things to do. I don’t know if the teachers broadened their perspectives. I do know that we set the example that day in a community that was not being kind or fair. The end.




Conference Guide for Introverts

I’m a very proud introvert. I think it’s something of a super power. I tend to be a good listener, I’m very thoughtful and creative, and because of these things, I often have insights that others miss, especially about other people. My sensitivity makes me an excellent communicator because I’m paying attention to what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and what you might be feeling that could be getting in the way of what you really mean.

I could talk for days about the ways that introverts are told there’s something wrong with them. Many of us grew up with other people making excuses for us and putting us in uncomfortable situations to help us break “out of the box.” I think a lot of us deal with thoughts of inadequacy creeping in and even a career field like librarianship can make it difficult for us to shine.

For a lot of introverts, a full conference experience is taking on the gauntlet. I went to my first national conference, a four day event, this year and battled through all the exhaustion and anxiety. I’ve survived to offer up some helpful tips.

  1. Let people know. This applies everywhere and anytime. Being up front about how you’re feeling and communicating what you need from people is so key to…any kind of adult interaction or relationship. As an introvert, you may have spent a lot of time trying to blend in with more socially-energized types, and maybe explaining that you’re ready for quiet time is awkward for you. All I can say is that life will get a lot better for you when you start caring a little less about what others think. If someone wants you to go out for drinks after dinner and the thought of it gives you a headache say, “I really appreciate it. I just really need some time to myself to digest the day.” If a conference buddy has latched onto you and wants to chat in every session and at meals, explain, “I really need some quiet time so that I can come back energized for our next talk. Let’s meet up later.”
  2. Eat one meal every day by yourself. May I suggest breakfast? At the conference, I’d wake up, do some yoga, and spend some time meditating and preparing my mind for the rigors ahead. Then I’d grab an omelet and caffeinate before heading to the conference center. Breakfast was a good meal to skip with the assembly because most people aren’t into deep conversation mode yet. Something about eating alone and savoring my food, the time taking care of myself, was restorative.
  3. Take a walk after lunch. If you’ve eaten lunch and you still have some time before your next session, take a walk. If you have a new friend who wants to come, maybe explain that you’re happy to have them, but you also like a comfortable silence. Take some time to notice what’s around you. Find details and marvel at them for a few moments.
  4. Let your mind wander. I took lots of photos while I was exploring the city. I let myself think about what living there must be like and talked with people around town. If you like to be creative, do some writing or drawing. Create some memories.
  5. If a round of sessions aren’t really appealing to you, head back to your room for some down time. I tried taking naps, but instead wound up watching HGTV during these breaks. I needed the mental vacation.
  6. Make a soundtrack that channels all your confidence. I listened mostly to M.I.A, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj while I was there. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be fierce.

Above all, remember that there’s nothing wrong with the way you feel. Absolutely push yourself to try new things and talk to people you don’t know, but really respect yourself in doing so. If you make one or two conference friends, you’re probably doing pretty well.



When You’re Angry and You Know It


Photo cred: Justin Kern

A couple weeks ago, I presented at my state conference and it went so well! It was my first time presenting and I was so excited to see a full room and hear really wonderful feedback from participants who said it meant a lot and was fun for them. I remember saying, “I’m going to ride this high for weeks!” Well, maybe I jinxed myself, because the next day I got some awful news.

It’s really a long story and one I don’t feel too comfortable getting into online, but due to some questionable decisions made by city officials, I am losing the space where I hold all of my programs except computer classes. At this point, I have no space in our building to move to and programs will have to be done either as outreach or in other branches.

Since I first heard the news a couple weeks ago to now, I’ve been doing everything in my power to keep this from happening. My director and I had a pretty good plan for making these officials see reason.

  1. I compiled a report on our statistics from programs and included advocacy (explaining the importance of storytime was chief among my concerns) as well as feedback we received in surveys and success stories from patrons.
  2. My director made a beautiful infographic and pamphlet to bring to the officials to help her have a conversation about the importance of that space.
  3. Our county management team tried to give the officials a nudge toward supporting us.

We were flat out ignored and told that in four or five months we “may” be able to re-visit the topic. The situation is really tricky for us for a lot of complicated reasons, so right now, our only hope for one day regaining this space is that patrons will speak up for us to their elected officials and that those officials listen to them. I have to say, though, I don’t have a lot of hope that pressure from the community will change their minds.

This process has taken place over the course of about three weeks and I’ve been struggling to plan for the future in the meantime. It’s beyond distressing to me to watch my community lose access to the services that they pay for and deserve and it’s hard not to take it personally. I’m responsible for all the programs for two branches and planning and leading them takes up around 70% of my time. I’ve used this space to build attendance for new programs for seniors and a new storytime for babies as well as continuing to build on our existing programs from other librarians. I can’t even let myself think about how much this is going to cripple my ability to handle field trips and events for classes, or, you know…summer reading?!

All this to say, I’ve had an emotional struggle on my hands that I’ve tried to keep under wraps as things progressed. Last week, things came to head for me, though. We installed brand new RFID gates, scanners, and a self-check machine and things did not go smoothly. In the process of getting patrons used to the changes, I was awash in stress and sadness and anger that I was trying to bury for the time being. It wasn’t working as well as I wanted. At one point, I was really callous and unhelpful with a patron who tends to be difficult to help under the best circumstances. I felt so terrible. I’d never stopped helping someone before.

So when I came home for the weekend, I had to deal with the way I was feeling. I looked at my anger and sadness and I did my very best to smile at it. If I’m being honest, staying angry feels really good under these circumstances. I have a great reason for it and I should be pushing back, but that anger is selfish. It doesn’t help the people who interact with me every day and it’s slowly eating up the joy and the peace that I’ve cultivated for myself over the years. It stays right under the surface and tells me that I have it hard enough without feeling all the struggles of the people around me. That’s not who I want to be.

This week I want to wake up early, recognize how I’m feeling, and take the time to really put everything in it’s place before I head to work. I want to tell myself, “It’s going to be a great day,” and then think about all the ways I can make that true just with my mindset. I should be pushing back against what I know is wrong, but I have to remember, too, that I can’t help people without focusing on my compassion and joy. To do that, I have to put down my resentment and find a way to love the moment I’m in. I don’t know how I’m going to do that peacefully. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have to try to keep in touch with my role as helper and healer through what comes next.


The Librarian’s Mantra

I was about 10 years old and my family took me camping for the summer, like we did every year. I was bored with card games and reading, fishing and cooking stew over the fire, so my mom took me to a nearby lake to go swimming with other kids my age. I found a few kids to play with and together, we swam out to a square dock just beyond the rope that marked shallow areas. It was a “big kid” play area until a boy’s younger brother joined us. We quickly voted that he was too young to stay and play and his brother kicked him off, telling him to swim back to mom. I watched him paddling back with short, awkward strokes and realized that he was swallowing a lot of water. He was going under for longer and longer on his way back to the rope and by the time my new friends really took notice, I was in full moral panic. I was a brave kid, but I didn’t want to help him because I knew I could. I was TERRIFIED that if he died, I, too, would drop dead and be sent directly to the fiery depths of hell for watching him drown. So I took a deep breath and I went after him.

It did not go well. I didn’t come extremely close to dying, but I had some bruises and absolutely no gratitude from the boy’ s mother who informed mine that I almost drowned her son. (For the record, all other witnesses concur, he was in deep trouble until I managed to pull him to the rope.)

So it’s probably strange that I think about that lake a lot. When I meditate, I picture it without all the people and the noise. I remember the smooth rocks on the shore, the blue-green water, the island dotted with tall, skinny pines, and the sun-bleached skull of a deer that I could see there. I like to think of myself floating alone with the mists of the smoky mountains fighting against a clear blue sky. It’s my heaven.

Photo Credit: Payton Chung

Photo Credit: Payton Chung

And when I meditate, I sometimes think of this mantra. Feel free to use it or share your own version, too.

Today I will feel all that I feel

I will not neglect my anger or my sadness

I will not avoid or turn to apathy

Instead, I will take a deep breath and I will sink, sink, sink

To where the world vibrates and echoes with the lives I touch

And I will feel calm

When I help a patron with a difficult problem, I will not think of all the emails in my inbox

When a co-worker needs to complain, I will not call to mind all my greater obstacles

When a friend is experiencing grief and heartache, I will not retreat from her pain

And when a child is boisterous and needy, I will not tune him out

I will be present with the people who trust me to help

I will hear need and I will respond with gentle empathy

I will be available and generous in sharing burdens

And I will be in control–a teacher in the moment when a child is ready to absorb

And when my peace is shaken

When I have no more staff

When I lose all my money

When there’s not enough time

I will remember the strength that has carried me thus far

I will remember how I was persistent in the face of discrimination and job scarcity

I will remember how I was resilient against abuse and control

And I will remember that physical violence couldn’t make me afraid

I have never run away. I have never given up. I have never stopped.

I will defend my peace.

It is mine; bought with tears and nightmares, prayers and determination.

Only I can give myself peace and only I can protect it.

So today I will feel all that I feel

I will not neglect my anger or my sadness

I will not avoid or turn to apathy

I will take a deep breath and I will sink, sink sink

To where the world vibrates and echoes with the lives I touch

And I will feel calm.


Photo Journal of a Summer Day

8:30 am: I arrive at the library and relax into my space. I have 15 mins before my teammate arrives, so I just wander aisles, straightening up, and sort of meditating on the day ahead.

9 AM: I start getting ready for baby storytime.


9:30 AM: I get a call from my supervisor, prompting me to take a quick break and fix my stats spreadsheet. I’m not a details person, so making sure everything is perfect takes me about 15 mins.


9:50: I start communing with my baby bouncers and we do storytime.


11 am: I’ve cleaned up after storytime and I rush out the door to pick up supplies for the afternoon’s program: Life-Size Plants vs. Zombies! (I made catapults from yard sticks and ladles. More on this later.)

supply run

12 PM: I get back to the library and round up a volunteer to help me set up. Sometimes volunteers are people who signed up to help and sometimes they’re favorite patrons of mine who have the misfortune of being there when I could use a hand. This time it was the former.


12:45ish: I break for lunch. Today I enjoyed a salad and a quick walk around the park next door while listening to The Raven Boys on Hoopla.

lunch    walk

2 PM: 50 kids arrive at the library (part of a summer camp), and they’re ready for Plants vs. Zombies. This is a hot mess, but it’s fun and most of the kids love it.

3 PM: I settle in for some collection development while my teammate goes to lunch.


3:30 PM: I get stopped a few times to help people, but it’s mostly quiet. At 3:30, a patron I worry is beginning to experience memory loss comes in for help understanding his ebook loans. It takes me around 30 minutes to get him straightened out and on track again. After he leaves, I decide I need to make a guide for him that I can print and give him.

4 PM: My teammate is back and I comfortably settle into selecting again. We use Baker and Taylor, so it takes me what can only be described as a hellishly long time to get things sorted into their proper carts.

4:45ish: A new patron arrives needing a library card and help setting up an email address. She is totally new to computers, so this takes around an hour.


5:45: It’s time to start closing, so I quickly jot a note listing all the things I will need to take to my second branch the next day. I’m writing it as I’m getting it ready to go, but the act of writing the list actually helps me remember everything. (I think this is another one of those ways I’ve learned to compensate for not being good with details.)


6:00 PM: I load everything into my Jeep while my teammate makes sure the building is empty and secure. We reflect on the joys of the day on our way out.