Thursday, July 28, 2011

Keep It Positive

It's easy to focus on the negative, not just for librarians but for society as a whole. However I don't write a society-as-a-whole blog, I write a librarian blog. Too many of our behavior guidelines for patrons focus on the negative. You can't do this, you can't do that. Of course it is (usually) quicker to list the prohibited behaviors rather than all of the allowed behaviors. And that might be acceptable in policies but it isn't acceptable in daily staff behavior. (Oops, that's me focusing on a negative, let's try that again.) But there's a better way to deal with the public daily.

Focusing on the negative, the forbidden, the prohibited can lead to a combative atmosphere between librarians and patrons. They feel like we're always waiting to "catch" them doing something wrong and staff feels like patrons are pushing to see how much they can get away with. It's not fun, not fun for staff, not fun for patrons, not fun at all. This combative atmosphere can be true with any patron but seems to mostly manifest in our interactions with teenagers.

At my library, we're trying a different approach. Rather than focus on the negative behavior, we are encouraging a positive alternative. Here's a few examples:
  • Instead of don't run, we say walk please!
  • How many DVDs can I check out? Not only five but rather up to five!
  • The sign could say: No Food or Drink Allowed! but instead it says: Food and Drink Free Zone: bottled water welcome
  • Teens getting noisy and unruly? Don't tell them to quiet down, ask them to be a little calmer

Now clearly this won't work in every situation. Some behavior is egregious that it must be immediately corrected. (I have been known to order in no uncertain terms a kid to stop punching another kid.) However 90% of patron interactions can be handled with a positive twist. It's surprising how quickly this can change the tone of your library and improve the morale of everyone, patrons and staff.