Jun 09

Home away from home – NOT?

Its Day 8 of the 30 blog posts in 30 days challenge. Let me start this post by saying that our public library users are, in the vast majority, lovely people who are pleasant, give us few problems and are generally fine to deal with.

Now for those who aren’t. Start of whinge.

I don’t know if I ever really experienced this in my previous branch manager incarnations (probably because the buildings were new then), but I seem to spend a lot of time logging, documenting and following up on maintenance requests, mostly building and fittings related.

A large number of these are not due to bad library design, poor maintenance of buildings or equipment or even accidental.  A large number of maintenance requests are a result of people deliberately getting up to no good. I won’t be specific, otherwise I will put you off whatever meal you have planned next.

It just gets me that maintenance problems in the main are not accidental, not a side-effect of something done incidentally, but a deliberate act.  I really don’t get why? Is there something brave, smart or otherwise extraordinary about picking on a public library and causing damage/disturbance to other members of the public – not just library staff? Or is it more cowardice as we can be seen to be a soft target?

And its not just the deliberate vandalism that makes me wonder, but also the way some ordinary people treat the facilities. If someone treated their home in the same way, they would be outraged. In a sense, the public library is a kind of home – a home for the staff who work there and for people who use it regularly. We all want a pleasant space to visit.

Unfortunately we can’t have eyes and ears everywhere, but we do what we can to help remind people to respect the facilities and the people using them.  On the otherhand, we wouldn’t want to have eyes in some areas, so instead we just deal with the issue as best we can.

End of whinge.

I feel better now, thanks!


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  1. Penny

    The library manager for the public library we are associated with has the philosophy that the library is everyone’s living room. For the most part that is a good depiction of how we’d like people to feel in the library space.. comfortable, relaxed and safe. The reality is that a library is a public space like anywhere else. We have had a real issue with disgusting stuff happening in the toilets. So much so, they are now controlled by a key which people have to come and collect. It’s not the sort of interaction I like to have with patrons but it has stopped the endless maintenance calls (and costs) associated with improper use of facilities. I would have liked to have seen a swipe-your-library-card system but it was too expensive.

  2. Andrew

    I think it comes down to respect and trust, and that certainly goes both ways.

    If there’s one thing that I took away from seeing Michael Stephens speak a few years, it was that we need to form better relationships of trust and respect with our users.

    I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case with your library, but I think part of the problem is that many public and school libraries are so entrenched in their system of prohibitive rules, that it becomes highly counterproductive.

    Having big signs saying “No Food” at the front of the library, doesn’t stop people from bringing food into the library. What it does do is say “We don’t trust you to bring food into the library without causing a mess and getting food all over the books, even though we’re quite happy for you to take the books home, and read them next to a bowl of cereal or a cup of coffee.”

    And do you know what people tend to do when an authority figure tell them (particularly teenagers) “We don’t respect or trust you.”

    They stop respecting you back. They make life difficult for you, because that’s the expectation that you’ve already set for them. Simply, they do it purely to piss you off, because you’ve presumed to judge them as being untrustworthy before you’ve even formed a relationship with them.

    So many libraries have had a history of forming these relationships of mistrust, and I still see it all the time, but libraries *are* getting better at it. People just need to realise it.

  3. Michelle McLean

    I think you’ve got a point, but in our case it is probably more to do with rules that don’t let them get away with everything they want, like unlimited time on the internet, or borrowing without their library card etc. We don’t have bans on food and drink, mobile phones etc, the library is usually only quiet when its closed and we don’t have to deal with behavioural issues often and then only when its disruptive to other users.

    Unfortunately, this one group, whomever they are, are not the only ones we have to provide for – we serve a wide range of users and have to serve each equally.

  4. Michelle McLean

    Same sorts of things at our library too. We have locked the toilets in the past, but after a time, went back to open access and it was fine. A different generation of users/abusers maybe?

    Love the idea of a swipe card! Not just cost that would need to considered, also the privacy angle. Don’t go there…….

  5. @geomancer

    apparently vandalism is a common problem for public libraries- I think much of the problem is caused by boredom. At MPOW, the main time for vandalism is long weekends & long holidays, really sad as the library is there for everyone

  6. Michelle McLean

    Unfortunately for us, long weekends are not really any different to normal weeks. Sigh!

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