Library Advocacy

credit: Kentigern

There is an organization in my state that is actively working to get library funding reduced by 50%. This is an absurd idea. The state library is rallying support and library directors are training staff on how to be good library advocates.

I have an idea.

Let’s be nicer. Let’s smile at each person. Let’s get up off our chairs and take them to the shelf. Let’s not act like they are stupid if they don’t know how to print a document or crazy if they ask us to do something clearly outside of our scope of services.

I witnessed something in my library recently. The library was closed, the computers shut down and a woman, somehow missed by our sweeps came wandering into circulation wanting to check out a book. The staff person did an okay job of telling her that we were closed; but, that we would check out her items by bringing the system back up. The woman threw her items down on the table and started storming out while yelling over her shoulder, ” You people are always so pleasant to work with.” We all stood there slightly dumbfounded. Our coworker had been decent in dealing with her. She had used a pleasant tone and did not even have a slight attitude in her delivery. We chalked it up to a grouchy customer and all headed out.

In the car ride home, I began to reassess what had happened. I felt bad that the customer had left without her items and so clearly upset. How could we have handled this differently? Two things came to mind…well actually three. First, my coworker didn’t need to tell her that we were closing, there were several staff standing there with their coats on waiting for the library to be clear of customers. Secondly, we didn’t need to have 7 staff standing around out there making this woman feel guilty about holding us all up. And thirdly, I think I could have chased her down, expressed that I really wanted her to be leaving with the items she had come for and offer to take her card, check them out and bring them back out to her car. I wouldn’t do a typical manager response by blaming the staff. It wasn’t her fault either. It was a perfect storm of a long, crazy day at the library and a frustrated patron running out of time to get the things she wanted/needed.

We can do better. We must do better.

Manners 2.0: Cultivating Common Courtesy in a Digital World

What is it about the embracing of emerging technologies that has allowed people to abandon common courtesies? Last year, I worked in retail and I was astonished at the sheer number of people who thought it was perfectly fine to conduct a retail transaction while talking on the phone. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a younger generation phenomenon, I can tell you that I was equally surprised by the diversity in age of the offending customers. Let me tell you a story of one clueless customer. We had one public restroom. You know where I’m going with this right?

A customer approached me to say that someone had been in the bathroom an unusual amount of time and could I check on her. I had actually walked past the bathroom several minutes prior to this and noticed that someone was in there talking on their phone. I remember thinking: who talks on their phone while they’re in a gross public bathroom?

So, of course, she is still in there talking loud enough for the 5 people waiting for the bathroom to hear her, word for word. If she thought talking in the restroom provided some sort of privacy she was wrong. I knocked loudly on the door. There was a moment of silence and then, “Uh oh, I think people want to get in here.” We all stood there and listened to some mysterious noises and finally the door opened. A woman in her 60s emerged and said, “Sorry,” put the phone to her ear and continued her conversation. The customers started clapping and the incident was over.

Clearly, cell phones, social networking and other web 2.0 tools have changed the way we interact with one another; but, can’t we also carry with us some traditional concepts of courtesy? I think so. I’ve created a very basic list of rules to follow when navigating in the digital world.

Rules of Respect 2.0

1. Set your phone to vibrate when in a public place where there is an expectation of quiet: hospitals, libraries, coffee shops where people are working on laptops are just a few examples. You might also lower the ringer when in any indoor public place. There is a general annoyance when you hear someone’s obnoxiously loud ringtone no matter where you are.

2. Turn your phone off when you are on a date, eating dinner with your family, hanging out with friends, basically when you are engaged with other humans in a business or social arena. If you are waiting for an important call/txt or email or need to be on call, let your companions know that you may need to excuse yourself.

3. If you receive a formal invitation to something like a wedding, rsvp via snail mail. Don’t send a text, email or IM, unless the hosts have indicated that sort of response is acceptable.

4. If you need to speak or listen to another person, remove your headphones/earbuds. Keep the volume of your portable devices low enough that others around you can’t hear them.

5. Txting and surfing during class is rude and although you may be confidant in your multitasking abilities, you are probably not digesting all that the professor says.

This is just a beginning list. I’ll probably add more as this blog goes on.

My friend told me  a digital date from hell story.  She recently went on a first date with a woman and her date checked her Blackberry several times throughout their meal and actually responded to a txt message as they were walking down the sidewalk.  The thing that most struck me about this was that this person is not being fully present in her life. And I surely don’t want to date someone who isn’t even fully present on the first date. You can use this same scale when dealing with the store clerk, the gas station attendant and others you come in contact with. Turn off your devices, acknowledge this other human that is in your life. You can check your texts, talk to your friend, surf the internet in just a moment.

Confession: I am kind.

There. I’ve said it. Perhaps, I should have said: I try to be kind. I’m not perfect. There are times when my patience is short, when I need food or more sleep or I’m bothered by something in my life….when I faulter in my effort to just be a kind, compassionate, civil person.

There are areas of business where “kindness” is a dirty word, where it is equated with weakness. In the non profit world, I have seen people look at me suspiciously if I talk about compassion or kindness or if I express a view that is devoid of blame or irritation with our customers.

While living in Portland, OR, I had various chores that brought me to the Post Office. I know what you are thinking I’m going to write, outside of the DMV, the Post Office has the crankiest, rudest civil servants. You would be wrong. Here is a snapshot of one such experience.

I enter the Post Office with my girlfriend and there is a long line right up to the double glass doors that lead to the rental boxes and self serve kiosk. I assess the line and look at the service area. There are two workers helping customers and two empty spots where workers could be helping customers. I figure I have time, so I settle in for the wait. It isn’t long before I tune myself to the various grumblings around me. The woman behind me is talking loud, hoping to engage someone in conversation. A man comes out from the back, sees the line and asks if anyone is there to pick up mail. A man steps forward from the back of the line and hands the man a slip. “Why don’t you just help the next person?” Someone yells out. The worker comes back with a package, hands it to the man and again asks if anyone is waiting for mail. When no one steps up, a customer says, “You could help us!” loudly, and in an angry tone. He turns red and says he doesn’t know how to do that job and escapes to the back. The woman behind me took this as fuel and started talking loudly enough for everyone to hear, “This is ridiculous. I’ve never seen such poor service” and various other obnoxious grumblings. I could literally feel the stress level in the room go up. Now people in the line are getting egged on by the one or two loud customers and everyone seems to be loudly complaining and trying to engage the workers.

Okay. Let’s look at this situation. Is it the worker’s fault that they don’t have enough staff at that moment to handle the line quickly? Is it benefiting anyone, including the grumblers to get angry about the situation? Does the woman behind me realize that she is setting the tone for the rest of her afternoon?

You’re probably wondering what I was doing during all of this. My girlfriend and I looked at one another and just naturally fell into a loud, pleasant conversation about our favorite stamps. We engaged the 3 people immediately in front of us when they casually looked our way and before we realized it we had passed 10 minutes having a lovely conversation with strangers. I finally, as I got closer to being helped, turned to the woman behind me and said, “They can’t help it. Don’t you think they wish there were more workers to help them get through the rush?” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. She looked irritated but stopped talking.

The other thing I did was talk directly to the worker. I told her I was sorry the crowd had gotten rude and hoped it didn’t spoil her day. I thanked her for doing a good job and wished a her more pleasant afternoon. She had a great attitude as did the man working next to her. Neither one of them let the crowd get to them. They both maintained their heads, managed to serve everyone as quickly as they could while also providing great service. The male worker, took the time to save a customer extra money by carefully measuring the package and suggesting an alternative method of shipping for her. He didn’t have to do that and instinct might have motivated him to just do as she asked and ship in the manner she requested and move to the next customer.

I applaud service workers such as these and I encourage you all to have a little compassion for overworked retail and service workers. Make the unpleasant experience fun. It really is your choice. Think up a game, start a conversation with a stranger, thank the worker. It really isn’t their fault that the express line is 20 people deep and the guy in front of you has 30 items in a 15 item line.