This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 7, 1995

June 7, 1995 - public turning nasty?

Once every other month, I attend a meeting of a group called the Front Range Public Library Directors.

Sometimes we have specific agenda items. Past topics have included the changing role of the State Library, the intelligent use of federal grant monies, long range planning for Colorado libraries, and cooperative purchasing agreements.

Sometimes, we just get an inside report on what's really going on at our neighboring libraries. All of us are famous for stealing any idea that appears to be working; we try to steer clear of the ones that didn't pan out elsewhere.

The meetings also alert us to trends.

At our last meeting, one of the directors brought up a subject like this: "Is it just me, or does it seem that the public is getting a little nastier lately?"

Then the stories began. Here's one that stuck in my mind: a patron strolled into a neighboring library to use the copy machine. Apparently, he had some trouble with it -- it seems the copy wasn't quite to his standard of clarity.

Put yourself in this man's place. What would you do?

Let's hope it's not what he did: he picked up his walking stick, and smashed through the glass. Then he calmly began walking toward the door.

The director of the library happened to be there, and called the police immediately. The cane-wielding patron didn't understand why people were mad at him. After all, he said, he was a taxpayer. He'd paid for the copy machine!

Said the library director: "You paid for the police cars, too. Do you think they'd let you take one out for a drive?"

It turned out that all the directors had recent stories: some funny, some bordering on frightening. But after awhile, it did seem that this kind of stuff is picking up all over Colorado.

I do understand that everybody gets a little peeved sometimes. There are times when anger is understandable -- somebody insults you, ignores you, gives you bad and/or expensive advice, or otherwise disturbs your peace of mind.

But some folks seem to think a public institution ought to be perfect. We are not ever supposed to make any kind of mistake. We must never fail to anticipate each and every patron's needs and special circumstances. We are expected to accede immediately to any taxpayer's demands, however unreasonable.

Now please understand that here at this library we do, in fact, try very hard not to make mistakes. Moreover, many of our staff invest a great deal of time trying to figure out how to make our operations as patron-friendly and convenient as possible. After all, the reason we got into this business in the first place is because we really believe in excellent public service.

Too, I want to be clear that the vast majority of our patrons are perfectly reasonable people, who are a pleasure to serve.

But because any institution -- public or private -- is run by people, mistakes do happen sometimes. They always will. WHEN they happen, I have instructed our staff to admit it, lay out some options, and try to set things right.

But based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that sometimes, for a growing (?) number of people, that isn't enough.

I want people to understand that library staff are public servants. They are not, however, doormats.

Is there a trend toward hyper-critical responses to inevitable foul-ups in the workings of public institutions? Take a look around, and decide for yourself.

But just in case there is, the next time something goes wrong, let's strive to recall a little elementary etiquette.

None of us can be perfect. But we can try to be polite.

No comments:

Post a Comment