Having a recent bad experience at work, something common among librarians, I decided to post my thoughts about it. A discussion with my colleagues later, definitely contributed to the idea of publishing my approach. Last week, while working the reference desk, I was called by a user to assist her with a printing problem that she had with a web page. It didn’t take long to realize that this person was extremely confrontational. She was feeding of the fights she was creating and the library staff was apparently the best target! I gave her some options but, what she was asking was impossible, especially because of the site’s set up. Of course, she didn’t want to listen and was trying to do her own thing, accusing me and another colleague of having wasted her time and printing money. There is more to this story but it is not necessary to get into too much detail.
Two questions come up in situations like these. The first is when do we do too much and the second how do we deal with people like the user in the story while keeping our cool. I will answer the second question first and I am not going to lie. I felt I was too close to reach my limits. Then, a thought came to me providing the solution. How about thinking of the many users who appreciated my knowledge and help and even expressed this appreciation. This thought immediately provided a shield against this user’s behavior. I felt like I was untouchable. Her insults and accusations stopped bothering me. Let’s move on with the other question. Is it ever too much? Should we stop helping, if the user’s behavior becomes inappropriate? Well, you may say “it depends”. This is a valid answer that opens the door of the room with the million possibilities and scenarios. If other users need our help, we must move on, at some point. If not, then we are the only people in the world who can change this person to a better one. We need to stay and help as much as possible, showing with our attitude to this user that there is a better way to deal with problems than attacking those who try to assist.
For many, librarians have two roles, first to preserve the knowledge of the world and second to provide it to others through any media available and their own teaching. There is a third role that a lot of people, even librarians, don’t see and that is to help humanity to advance. Advancement cannot be accomplished by education alone. Education is only a small part of it. Leaving behind the dark ages and becoming superior beings is what we call evolution of the species. Librarians are in this unique position to help with this goal, while they also attempt to evolve themselves. On the other hand and regardless of the third role, I don’t want to sound like a dreamer who refuses to see the world the way it is. At some point, the expression “enough is enough” does apply. When? Use your judgment!