Tuesday 9 October 2012

Shades of grey notes

Hi there!
For those of you who weren't able to attend last weeks event at Parramatta Library 'Shades of grey' here are some notes on the talks from our three presenters.

Philip Anderson
First up, we had Philip Anderson from Wyong Library who discussed the implementation and maintenance of the library's Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgendered collection, which was launched in 2007 with 200 titles. It has now grown to its maximum agreed size of 1400 items which is between 1% and 2% of the total collection. Philip pointed out that the items in this original collection were actually already part of the broader collection, but were not defined or easily identifiable.
Most libraries will already have a GLBT collection under similar circumstances for example, does your library hold Four Weddings and a Funeral? Or Oranges are not the only fruit? Are they consistently identifiable as belonging to a GLBT collection?
The approach that Philip and Wyong Library have taken is to identify the collection virtually. They have created a subject heading of 'GLBT' which is used on every single item in the collection. This means that the titles are spread throughout the collection and across the Library's multiple branches.

After implementation of this system it was identified that gay books had lower borrowing stats than the lesbian books. After further consideration, Philip considered that perhaps this was because of the rather suggestive covers on some of the gay titles, such as the cover of 'The Secret Tunnel' Philip will be watching these stats closely when the library introduces RFID self checkers later this year which may offer borrowers a little more discretion when checking the titles out. Philip has also considered that a higher level of theft of this collection possibly has the same basis of people being a little uncomfortable taking their titles to the counter.
The library has received few complaints about the collection. The issues that have arisen have often involved the staff and their reactions to the collection, rather than the public. All the complaints that have been received involved the DVD collection.
Philip discussed classification and that R18 DVDs are the highest turnover collection at Wyong. The demand is there, and the library is offering items that can be bought over the counter at any store. There have been incidents where customers have taken M rated DVDs from the GLBT collection home and have made a complaint. The library's strategy for dealing with this is to make it clear that responsibility lies with parents or carers to supervise the loans of children according to their own values and explain borrowers who take issue with R18 DVDs or the GLBT collection that the library is providing services to a range of different people in the community.
Philip stresses that in these situations, statistics are your friend and can be used to show both customers and other staff that there is an identified need for these parts of the collection. It is also important to understand classifications and censorship laws and how they work.
Philip is available to answer questions for anyone interested in finding out more at PAAnderson@wyong.nsw.gov.au

Katherine Mitchell
Next we had Katherine Mitchell who stepped in for Debbie Best who was unable to attend the night. Katherine is the Information Access Librarian at Parramatta and was actually the first Young Adult Librarian in NSW.
Katherine was discussing the way the library has handled some issues with young people in the library who have been disruptive.
Parramatta is a growth LGA and a bit of a melting pot with many young people from different backgrounds and experiences coming together in the one place. The library was dealing with groups of school kids coming in at all times of the day and being disruptive seemingly for the sake of it. The situation reached boiling point when staff were threatened and intimidated and the library management approached Council about the issue.
They were able to get the Lord Mayor on board, who happened to have a big interest in youth issues. The issue of poor behaviour by some young people was then identified as being CBD wide.
Working with the Council, the library was able to forge a network of stakeholders, including the local schools to focus on the issue. Through these contacts a protocol was able to be initiated.
The library learned about the schools system of giving students pass outs to leave the school grounds on free periods.  Through the partnerships with the schools, they were in a position to ask the students for their pass outs and to be in contact with the school to check the schedules of the students that were in the library.
This process empowered the staff in the library who were able to see the students as young kids who were doing the wrong thing and who could be sent back to school, rather than the scary, disruptive customers who were causing so much trouble.
Katherine stressed that this network of support from the community is imperative in overcoming such situations and that having all staff on the same page, with a consistent message will help overcome these situations.

Linda Bathur
Last up we had Linda Bathur from Waverley Library discussing some of her experiences and asking us to think critically about difficult situations in the library.
She raised examples of customers she has come across, such as drug users disrupting others with paranoid outbursts, a  man who was so in need of a bath he could clear a room not just when he was there, but for hours after, and a homeless man who was very surprised to be asked to leave when staff found him on a bean bag in the children's library, swigging on a beer. Linda also raised the more socially accepted 'difficult customers' such as the mothers whose children are perfect and couldn't possibly be introducing other younger children to porn on the library's computers, and of course the customers who will not pay their overdue fees because they always return their books on time!
Linda questioned our term of 'difficult customer' and wondered whether we are setting ourselves up for further issues based on assumptions with these customers later on. Would it be more appropriate to take the customer out of the equation and call it a 'difficult situation?'
She asked us to consider whether dealing with these situations should be part of our job, which we all agreed was a yes, as libraries pride themselves on being 'the last bastions of free public space and welcoming to everyone.'
So whose problem are these situations? Management or staff? Linda agrees that in many instances frontline staff will try to defuse a situation but if the customer will not back down will then pass the issue up to management. This is often the best way to deal with the situations, but Linda stressed should not be the only way. She pointed out that often managers are no better equipped than the frontline staff in dealing with the issues. The best outcome would be creating workable solutions for all staff through developing strategies, policies and procedures for staff to reduce problems. This could be in the form of a 'customer service charter' or protocols for dealing with homelessness. It is important through such documents to focus on the behaviour that is an issue rather than particular types of people. Training staff to deal with situations and promoting morale and sense of safety are also important as is stressing that no conversation about dealing with difficulties can occur without also discussing good customer service.
Some of the tips Linda left us with are:
  • listen and apologise for the customers inconvenience, for example 'I'm sorry you have had that experience/ that you are feeling this way'
  • be diplomatic- 'getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you'
  • go in to 'computer' mode- don't rise to any bait or get emotional
  • show empathy
  • show appreciation for customer feedback- 'thank you for bringing this up with us, we will be following it up at our next staff meeting'
Thanks so much to all of our fantastic speakers. I think we all picked up some valuable skills on the night.
Thanks also to all those in attendance, we hope to see you again at the next event!


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