MHLS Home Small Libraries Roundtable
April 2007

Topic: Dealing with Difficult Patrons

Notes from the April 2007 Meeting


Policy is the first line of defense.
-have policy in place before behavior/incident occurs
-don't write policy directed at an individual

Defining "difficult"- first step towards knowing what approach to take:
-kids v. teens v. adults
-Irritating / quirky / lonely
-Mentally ill*

(*if from a facility --> tip: talk to facility administration)

Staff Training
-Sample procedures for staff from the Kinderhook Memorial Library
-Train staff re: library policy; how to deal with complaints from patrons about another patron
; when to direct the person to the director
-Importance of a sense of humor
-Give staff latitude to solve / resolve on their own when the patron is upset about their fines.

- Waive fines for patrons that get irate if below a stated dollar amount
-"Read-Down-Your-Fines" Program at the Queens Library - library buck for every hour kids spend reading in the library
-Bartering for fine - work off fines by volunteering at the library

What to say to patron that monopolizes or is argumentative:
"I'd like to talk to you right now but…"
"You'll have to excuse me…"
"I'm Switzerland" - library is a neutral place where everyone is welcome
Know when conversation needs to be removed from public space

-Educate staff as to the environment you want to establish within the library
Raising parental awareness:
Sign-off form to communicate to parents that the library is not responsible for what their kid takes out / watches; Parent permission slips; "This is what it means to have a library card" - "full disclosure"
-Internet Use policy and kids: parental sign-off
-Recognize the difference between irritating and malicious behavior
-Perception of other parents may cause problems
-Compliment good behavior within hearing distance of peers
-Use humor:"You just missed our rollerblading hour you'll have to take those off." (Anne Jordan)
-Give warnings
-Talk to parent / letter to parent
-Last resort: tell kid they can't come back for X number of day(s) when they have violated library policy a number of times

Kids suspended from school:
-School tutor @ library - getting school to let you know they are coming /ask permission
-Individual tutor running business out of library - most libraries do not allow this and write it into their policy

Porn on PACs
-Define procedures, discipline in your Internet Use Policy
-Train staff -Help staff know what to say if they have to address this issue with a patron; if they aren't comfortable doing it let them know it's OK to refer the interaction to director
-Kids and the Internet: parental sign-off on policy; policy should make it clear that it is the duty of parents to oversee their kids in the library

Hygiene / odor / sick @ library
-Recognizing different staff, have different thresholds
-Tip: Wait for another patron to complain
-Incident report form

-What to say

Unstable / Mental Illness
Incident reports - create paper trail - establish pattern of behavior for if you have to call the police
Avoidance of escalating incident (handouts)
Give them choices - "behave or leave"
Back up initial staff person
Look for antecedents / triggers, this can help head off problems

Throwing someone out of the library:
-Policy must define circumstances
-Administrative procedure should be followed
-Based on behavior of patron not opinion of staff
-Incident report filed

Only one person working at the library?
-Tip: Code word/phrase to use when calling a nearby staff person/volunteer to come over to the library and assist

Animals in library policy
Deny entry or if you allow, then define ill behavior.


Next Meeting:
Tuesday, July 24th @ New Lebanon 10 AM to 12 PM + BBQ Lunch
Topic: Dealing with small space





Home | Public Library Catalog | Calendar | Contacts | Services | Bulletins | Member Libraries | MHLS Board of Trustees | Web Site Index

Administration & Management | Resource Sharing & Millennium | Reference & Collection Development | Library Programming | Professional Development | Marketing, Advocacy & Funding | Youth Services | Trustee Resources