Today, ref desk duty, and I swear, I had one of those library moments where I am so glad that my brain actually has a slight delay in processing stuff because if not for that delay, I probably would have admonished a patron. A patron who, in my view, was unabashedly disrespectful to me. I confess that it was approaching my lunch break and I was hungry, which made my brain extra leisurely in processing his request (and by leisurely, I mean it took me a second or two to find what book he wanted, and I had to go to Google and search there first because he gave me the wrong spelling for the title…so maybe he bears the blame for the delay!). All the same, because of this slight delay, he assumed I was not able to assist him. He began directing my actions, telling me what to do on the computer, directing me to Amazon to find the ISBN; then when that didn’t help us, he directed me to the library’s website, where he hoped to find information on how to request that a certain book be added to the collection.
Prior to this, I had not been able to find the book anywhere in our collection and in the Sacramento Public Library collection. I suggested he fill out a form, which I oulled from the cabinet behind me–this form is the best way to get the staff’s attention about possible new book additions to the collection. He refused the form, asking for how he could submit his request electronically. I began seeking out where this information was on the library website, at which point he asked me if I was familiar with the library page. (Sigh!) I did not respond to him, but I kept scrolling through options and selected the tab “about the library.” He suggested I check the FAQ tab that came up in the drop-down menu. I did so, at the top of which was an email address patrons can use to send their requests to the library. He then asked me to write down the email for him. (Sigh!) I did so.
He seemed (to me) to be rushed and dismissive of me, and I did not have the chance to recommend to him that the physical form really is the best way to communicate with staff. I did, however, sieze the opportunity to suggest interlibrary loan, a service which our library offers for a small fee to patrons who can’t find a book anywhere in our Sacramento area. He told me that this was not possible, because the book is not here (again, he assumed I did not know what I was talking about)…and it took me two attempts to explain to him that the book will be coming from outside the Sacramento area, if requested through interlibrary loan. He then agreed to take the interlibrary loan form I had brought out of the cabinet and placed on the desk, in case he might want to take a look at the form. He took the form and left. Internally, I sighed a big sigh of relief.
By the time I sat down to my lunch, I was not only hungry but feeling quite depleted. I think this is my first official experience of having a patron not only openly “boss” me but also make me feel incompetent. I realize there is still so much I have to learn, so much experience I have to gather, so many skills I have to develop. But it felt pretty negative to have someone shove my lack of experience in my face. It was a very invalidating feeling. Fortunately, I was able to remember that this stranger knows absolutely nothing about me and has no say in my self-esteem.
I am also grateful that my brain does have a slight delay in processing certain emotions and events, thus it took me a few seconds to realize he had put me down several times (whether he did so intentionally or not, I will never know). Perhaps, he is used to interacting with other staff, and when he saw me, he did not react well to me as “new staff” at the ref desk. Maybe the fact that I am a woman, a brown-skinned woman, also made him assume that I am not knowledgeable about the library and its offerings. I will never know, and I don’t want to know. Whatever made him treat me so dismissively, I am just glad that I did not get a chance to “talk back” because he may not have liked what I would have had to say.
So for times, when a patron acts in this way and makes me feel small, I will try to remember this: I can only do my best, in any given moment, my best for me and for the library. And I may not be perfect, my best efforts may not be perfect, certainly not perfect for every single patron, but I am a person, I am a human being, and I will always stand tall. No one can ever make me feel small. And if they try to, then I will simply assume that they woke up today on the wrong side of the bed.