Please stop, or I’ll go insane: Etiquette

Posted: May 2, 2013 in Uncategorized
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I’m sure librarians of all walks have come across multiple patron interactions that are rife with the potential for embarrassment. This is especially true for our brethern in the public sphere. Even if a librarian hasn’t had to interupt a patron to ask them to be quiet or to quit a certain behavior, it is a sure bet it won’t be long before they’ll be faced with a disrupter of the peace. What prompted this post was a student at my academic library, a perfectly nice, dedicated person, who would come in and sit at one of the computers near my desk and loudly smack on some hard candy or gum while working on school assignments.

This left me in a moral dilemna: At what point to interupt and address the behavior? It wasn’t anything overt, just a little tick that was beginning to interfere with my concentration on my work and made me concerned the students around the person were similarly suffering.

The situation made me ruminate on gray-area etiquette in the library, or really any public place where you have a responsibility to maintain a welcoming enviornment. This goes not only for the person sitting next to the gum-chewer, but to the gum-chewer as well. The instances of this in a public building are practically endless: Tapping feet, humming, muttering to oneself, and, worse and uncurable, smell. Most of these instances the librarian will be forced to simply bear it, but occasionally intervention is needed.

I consulted my Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post and similar on what to do. According to one column, it voilates etiquette to address someone unknowingly smacking gum. However, the librarian is not randomly sitting next to a person noisily behaving in public, they are in a position of responsibility. In seeking a solution, I put down some guidelines for how to handle such an unfortunate situation that may need to be addressed:

  • For a noisy patron who may not be aware they are repeatedly disrupting others – as in the case of my gum-smacker – be sure to address quietly and discreetly. It is awful to be called out and corrected publically.
  • Double-whammy with empathy. Show that you are sympathetic to the patron, but inspire sympathy for those around. “I know we’re in midterms and you’re probably really stressed right now, but you may not be aware you’re talking out loud. Many of our other students are on deadlines as well, and they may have trouble concentrating.”
  • If at all possible, provide a solution. My alma mater for undergrad school, Ohio Northern University, had a gorgeous library with individual study rooms on the upper levels. It was terrific: You could practice a speech or presentation away from your dorm without disturbing anyone else. If your library has something similar, or perhaps a quieter section you can refer the patron to, offer them the option. If you can think of any other way you can keep the patron happy and in the library, present it to them.

On the subject of etiquitte: Apologies.

I have a hard time apologizing for my actions when I’m in the wrong. When I’ve hurt someone, or been rude or mean myself, humbling myself to say “I’m sorry” seems to be the hardest thing in the world.

However, it’s necessary and good to do. I remember reading  a blog post years ago about how to properly apologize (for the life of me, I can’t find it again, but this one is pretty good). It stuck with me, particularly because I noticed since how many people do it wrong.

Instead of accepting blame and responsibility, many people deflect it back to the person or persons they are apologizing to. They say “I’m sorry you were offended,” or “I’m sorry you got mad” instead of “I’m sorry I was offensive,” or “I’m sorry for this specific action or thing I said that was mean or rude.” This is a major part of the apology: Accept that you are wrong, where you were wrong, and admit it.

In work, with colleagues or patrons, you’ll likely have to apologize at some point. Be careful and be sure to get it right.

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