All Library staff are committed to providing the best possible service to our
patrons. Most transactions with patrons are pleasant and rewarding ones. Occasionally,
patrons will have questions or complaints that may challenge even the best public
service skills. Your most effective tools for meeting such challenges are courtesy,
common sense, a calm approach, and a sense of humor.
The following steps are offered as guidelines for dealing with Library users
in general, and for handling those challenging questions or complaints specifically:
- Remain calm, receptive, and nonjudgmental. Be aware of your surroundings!
- Listen carefully to the patron's question, request, or complaint.
Practice active listening.
- Pause, breathe deeply, and think before responding.
- Speak in a relaxed, low tone of voice. Repeat and paraphrase what
the patron has said as concisely as possible. If the request or complaint
is reasonable or legitimate, attempt to resolve the problem, if you have the
authority to do so. If you do not have the authority to do so, offer to refer
the patron to your supervisor. If the complaint is against another staff member,
state sympathetically that there may have been a misunderstanding and attempt
to resolve the problem.
- If there is a justifiable need for an exception and you have the
authority to make one, do so. Please note that abusive, demanding behavior
on the part of the patron is NOT justification for an exception.
- If the request/complaint is against Library policy and an exception
cannot justifiably be made, explain the policy clearly, giving a succinct
explanation of its rationale, and show a written copy of the policy to the
patron, if available.
- Be pleasantly calm and firm. Do not argue. Stick to the issue and
do not get sidetracked by peripheral arguments about such things as deadlines,
special problems, etc.
- If possible, offer alternatives that do not violate policy. Outline
- If necessary, ask another staff member to corroborate your explanation
and be prepared to support your colleague. If necessary and/or possible, refer
the patron immediately to your supervisor. Keep in mind that personal styles
vary and one staff member may be able to resolve a matter with a patron that
another staff member could not.
- If the patron wishes to make a complaint in writing or by telephone,
give him/her the name of the relevant person. If your supervisor or the appropriate
Library administrator is not available, you may suggest that the complaint
be made in writing or by telephone. Should the patron ask for your name to
be included in the complaint, you may give that information (offering only
your first name, if you prefer). Be sure to tell your supervisor about these
incidents so that s/he will have the necessary details when the patron calls
- Refer the patron to your supervisor as necessary.
- If you work weekends or evenings and your supervisor is not available,
give the patron the supervisor's name, telephone extension, and the hours
when s/he can be reached.
- If the patron's behavior becomes disruptive and interferes with the
ability of others to use the library or with library operations, follow the General Guidelines.
An important point to keep in mind is that patrons should always leave the
Library feeling that their reasonable requests and/or complaints were taken
into consideration and handled properly. There may be times when you cannot
help a patron, but if you offer alternatives or refer the person to a colleague
who may be able to help, and do so courteously, then you have been helpful.