“As Others See Us: An Author on Why She Loves Librarians“, an article from one of my favourite book/library blogs, EarlyWord.
It’s a fun read (as any overly complimentary article about your chosen profession tends to be!) But one thing jumped out – the concept of the secrets patrons so willingly share with library staff:
She said nothing. I suspect there might be a class in this for librarians. The essential point being: Make no comments on books being check out. Even seemingly innocent remarks like “Good luck!” with a pile of diet books or “Taking a trip?” when a patron has a stack of travelogues. She was meant to say nothing and she did that.
I still remember chatting with a librarian colleague in Calgary and commenting about how I’d taken out a potentially embarrassing book at the library (either a biography of Osama Bin Laden or the Spice Girls – I can’t remember which) and mentioning how relieved I was that the person at check-out hadn’t made any comment at all about my choice. (I think the Spice Girls bio would’ve been more embarrassing!)
She explained that it was an unofficial policy that staff weren’t to comment on any books that a patron checked out, no matter how seemingly innocuous they might be. (Not sure if she meant just in her branch or system-wide.)
On the other hand, I recently chatted with another libraryland colleague who commented about how much she enjoyed chatting with patrons about the books they were taking out. As well, libraries (including RPL) are increasingly focusing on merchandising of their collections with one element of this being the retail concept of the “upsell” which encourages staff to comment on patron choices to guide them to other materials they may also like.
“Oh, I see you’ve got a Frommer’s Guide to Cuba. Did you know we have non-fiction DVD’s as well?” which again, calls the question of how much commentary there should be at the circulation desk.
I think most patrons would like and appreciate that hypothetical upsell. But perhaps this patron just had their DVD break down after her son peed on it. (Er, another hypothetical example – that would *never* happen in real life.) And she can’t afford to replace it right now because she’s recently divorced (due to a husband who was making heavy use of the DVD player to watch a type of movie you can’t get at the library) and now she has to find a job because they can’t be a stay-at-home mom anymore and so she’s decided to try writing travel articles which is why she needs this book (but not a DVD) and those lawyer fees aren’t paying themselves and hey, all you wanted to help a patron and promote the full range of your collection at the same time. But instead, a simple comment has resulted in a very negative experience for a patron.
I don’t know – that’s an extreme example and I know some people would argue that staff need to be sensitive and make a judgment call. But everyone will have a different line and a different comfort level…on both sides of the desk. There’s also the question of whether it’s better to avoid all circ desk chit-chat at the risk of offending the odd patron here and there when the vast majority would enjoy the interaction?
I think I still tend to lean towards that “better to say nothing” approach myself – at least in the vast majority of cases.