“Sometimes Caring is Enough” and Other Library Wisdom to Enrich Your Life
It’s a cliché among library workers that books are part of the job but reading them hardly ever is. What is part of the job is working with people and technology to provide access to materials, including books. The things we do are often nuanced because people are complicated, and this nuance, along with the general nature of being information workers, is a ripe stage for developing wisdom for those that do their jobs in a mindful way (read: Those who pay attention!). I’d like to think that my two decades of work in various libraries have taught me some things. Here are nine pieces of wisdom I learned from working in libraries:
Other people’s emotions are rarely about you
“How do you stay so calm in these situations?” Asked one my regular customers after a particularly gnarly encounter at the reference desk, “I would’ve thrown a stapler at him!”
Unfortunately, I’ve been asked variations of this question many times over the course of my career and the answer is simple: My job is to serve people and I can’t do that when I’m hollering back at them. Even if they insult me, threaten to get me fired, or tell me they pay my salary! (You wouldn’t believe how many times librarians get lambasted with that last one) Now, while there are limits to what I will stand, I remain acutely aware that people come into the library with all sorts of physical, emotional, financial, familial, difficulties — that guy wasn’t screaming at me because his hold hadn’t arrived; most people can wait a few extra days for the latest John Grisham, so he’s likely actually angry about, who knows, a fight with his brother. The real answer to how I stay calm is that I always keep in mind that bad behavior is rarely personal.
It’s a lesson that I try to carry with me outside of library work, too. When I get poor customer service somewhere or the people around me are challenging in general, I remind myself that their emotions are their own and that I can only truly be responsible for how I act and react.