In which I muse upon the customer service skill needs of all levels of library staff. Lesson: please set your default behavior to “polite.”

Ouch!  Just read a brief account of a very poor interaction with a circulation clerk that got me thinking.  You can read the story here.

Knee jerk reaction: shame on this staff member–and the librarian who supervises her1. Sure, circulation desk staff (who aren’t required to have an MLS, well enough a BA) aren’t trained in the nuances of the complete reference interview but come on!  I think we CAN expect customer service excellence–not to mention COMMON COURTESY–from every member of the library, whether branch director, circ clerk, or page.

Thinking about this more: those with the least amount of professional training often have the most amount of face time with patrons. Pages (usually teens) receive TONS of questions while they’re out on the floor shelving books.  There’s a good lesson in not neglecting basic training and development for these folks!

I worked as a circ clerk for about two years (in both adult and youth services) in a small public library. We face a lot of situations in which you are expected to act professionally: angry or violent patrons, inappropriate behavior. These types of interactions are upsetting for everyone but can usually be resolved with the aid of solid customer service training. Book ban requests are usually first received by the circulation staff. Depending upon who the patron is and how upset they are, these situations may require delicate maneuvering. Strong, clear policy and communication of that policy to staff are both crucial.

And now for a tangent: this last intellectual freedom aspect of circulation duties is what is most frustrating to me when I hear that schools are riffing or letting go of their media specialists and librarians and bringing in volunteers to man the desk. No disrespect to volunteers is meant here–these volunteers are, after all, keeping libraries open; however, they are not trained to handle matters of censorship. Caught up in the moment, a well-meaning volunteer may pull a challenged book or make promises to a parent that will foul up the review process later. It’s not just librarians who get worked up over banned books. Some parents don’t take to kindly to a complete stranger deciding that a book is too objectionable to be read by everyone else’s children.

1. I can almost guarantee that the person running this desk is not making librarian’s salary. The public, of course, lumps clerks and librarians into the catch-all “librarian” role. Continue reading.