Helpful Hint: Don’t Be Judgmental

Librarians encounter various… interesting patrons throughout their careers. Some of these encounters can be terrifying, leaving us feeling like we’re not prepared to deal with our patrons. But, in the words of Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.”

When it comes to dealing with those patrons that seem a little off their rockers (you know, that patron who starts biting her hand and moaning every time she finds out The Great Book of Trains by Brian Hollingsworth has been taken out by another patron), it’s important to stay informed. Read up on the various medical disorders that could be affecting your patrons and research the wise advice of professionals and self-advocates on how to best approach these patrons.

This will do three things for you:

  • It will help you spot the patrons you may need to change your approach for. Knowing the telltale signs of various disorders can help broaden your mind. Instead of thinking, “this patron is crazy and scares me”, you can think, “this patron is different and deserves to be treated with respect.” Understanding that your patrons will be different – not judging their personal merit to learn or their place in a library setting, but to be able to push out that initial fear that stops you from doing your best as a librarian – is the gateway to providing all of your patrons with a positive and safe experience within the library. The approach that needs changing is not necessarily the steps you’re going to take in dealing with a patron, but the emotional state and mindset you’re going to bring to the information desk.
  • It will teach you how to interact with your patrons before they enter the library. This is where that wise advice comes in. Every piece of wisdom you glean from professionals and self-advocates can be turned into tools and strategies for you to use with your patrons. Some of these are fairly straightforward, like the fact that it’s generally unhelpful to try to argue with those diagnosed with schizophrenia into a holistic view of reality and that it’s better to engage them with the emotional side of their psychotic episode. Others can be a little more abstract; for example, schizophrenia makes it difficult for people to concentrate and make sense of information. Try to think of some strategies you could use to make the process of acquiring information less difficult. I suppose that this is a good time to say that it’s not good practice to assume mental illness in a patron, but rather it’s good practice to be aware of what traits some of your patrons may have, what is helpful in specific situations, and how to spot that it might be a good time to implement these helpful practices.
  • It will equip you with the tools of reason. When you spot these possibly problematic patrons, remind yourself that you’re prepared for this. Take a step back, choose your “plan of attack” and calmly carry that plan out.

You can give all of your patrons a positive and safe experience at the library. Hopefully this has been a stepping stone on your journey to make that possibility a reality.

If you want to read more about schizophrenia, please visit these links:

Canadian Mental Health Association’s Page on Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Society of Canada


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