Rule #1: Don’t be an A**hole


First, let me start off by saying that I am a customer service person by nature. I enjoy figuring out what someone needs and making it happen. This is true in my current job as a public librarian, but it was also true when I was making beautiful foot-longs at Subway and when I was running the house for a theatre company. It’s easy for me, I think, because contrary to some service people (you know who they are), I am fond of the people I serve. In my role as a librarian this means all of the people who come through the doors of my library. Sure, we complain about them sometimes, but in the end, they’re the reason I love my job. Being invested this way is why it upsets – no, that’s the wrong word – why it disappoints me so much when they act like fools. Today, two regular patrons at my library caused a ruckus and these two, of all people, should have known better. That is why I feel that is it so important to explicitly state Rule #1 of dealing with customer service people: Don’t Be an Asshole.

This goes double for regular patrons. People who we see several times a week, sometimes even everyday. When a person is a stranger at the library, it’s not so bad for me to have to kick him out on his third warning. But a regular, I know I’m going to have to see you tomorrow and trust me, that rapport that we had is gone. And it’s such a shame too. It’s so simple to stay in good with me;

All you have to do is not be an asshole. You don’t have to be charismatic or entertaining. Most of our regular patrons aren’t. Trust me, I’m probably not nice to you because you’ve charmed me, I’m nice to you because that’s my normal demeanor. I don’t have ulterior motives or some sort of angle, what I do have is a line you don’t want to cross. And I’m patient so getting on my bad side is an accomplishment, unless of course, you do one or more of the few things that take you over that magical threshold real quick…

…Things like lying to me about things that matter…LIKE YOUR NAME! When you lie to me you take me for an idiot because you think I won’t find out. But chances are I will. Now, it may not happen right away, but between talking with my co-workers, looking you up in our system, and being observant, you will be caught. Especially because, be realistic, I. See. You. Every. Day. Still, you should know in advance that just because I found out that you lied to me I won’t be staring daggers at you when you pass. I am a professional and will probably treat you like everyone else. You’re welcome for that because if I treated you in kind you would have a pretty difficult time at the library.

Speaking of difficult times, another thing you should avoid doing whenever possible is being an rude to other staff. The reason for this is extremely basic and it is along the lines of: All that stuff I said above about liking my patrons? That goes double for my co-workers – I really like them – so if I find out – worse yet, if I witness – you being unkind to them my face will go dark and the hellish fires that are usually warming my soul will suddenly, dragon-like, be directed at you. Being mean to my co-workers makes you a persona non grata; it signifies that you do not deserve respect. Oh, I’ll be civil, but all those advantages you once had? POOF! GONE!

And there are surely advantages to being a regular patron at the library (a regular anywhere, for that matter). If I know you, there is a much better chance I will exempt you (just this once) from our regular policy. But that’s small beans; I go out of my way for all of my patrons, it’s my M.O., I think it’s the right way to do things. However, if you’re one of the regulars and you’re decent, you can kick “go out of my way” up a notch. Don’t go mistaking this as synonymous with being a pushover, like every good public servant I know when (and how) to say no. What it does mean is that if you’re request is reasonable, I will astound you.

The problem is when you, the patron I’ve astounded on numerous occasions, refuses to play by the rules when asked, demands more privileges, or writes a bullshit letter of complaint. There, you bite the hand that feeds you, and all those fuzzies I had are replaced by ice-cold formality. It’s hard to fathom that you felt so comfortable with me, a person you see practically every day, that you managed to get into your mind that it is alright to be disrespectful. It’s not. It is my choice to do an outstanding job for you, and when you fail to appreciate that, it is also my choice to shut you down which brings me to the ultimate asshole move: Disrupting the library as a whole.

I am sometimes surprised by the selfishness people display in a public place, especially people in mid-to-high income, high-stress areas. I’m not just talking about loud cell phone conversations or being rude, I’m talking about when you cut in front of everyone who is patiently waiting to be helped and brazenly insist on service. Double that when I am on the phone or in the middle of a word. Triple that when I am on the reference desk by myself. Don’t worry, I will calmly tell you to wait your turn or ignore you at first, but if you persist, I reserve the right to send you packing. It’s not that I’m less patient when I have a large line, I can(read: have many times) work a busy desk all day, it’s that you’re creating a negative environment for everyone around you.

See, that’s the big thing here: You can be rude and rail at me to a point; dealing with assholes like you is why I’m paid the big bucks, but the moment you start ruining other people’s library experience is the moment my patience vanishes. Part of my job, the indirect customer service part that I feel is vital, is making sure all of my patrons – even the ones that never approach the desk – are comfortable. And if you think it’s weird that I say “my” patrons, you’ll think it’s even more weird when I tell you, after you’ve ignored repeated warnings to stop doing X [where X=disruptive action], to leave my library.

Yeah, I take ownership of where I work just like I take ownership of my living room. I don’t have to point to rule #17(a) to kick you out of my house and luckily my library administration feels the same way; if you’re being disruptive you get the umpire treatment. Don’t worry though, even if you do get booted today, you can still come back tomorrow because we’re the public library and we’re realistic. We accept that sometimes you have a bad day and throw a tantrum in public. It happens. If you do decide to come back the next day, or the next week, an apology is not unwise, but certainly not necessary. I won’t hold a grudge, in fact, I will do everything I can to serve you just so long as you repeat at regular intervals in your mind, the oh-so-important Rule #1.

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