Black Belt Librarians

Yesterday I attended a workshop presented by Warren Graham, author of Black Belt Librarians (which I have not yet read). Admittedly, I was not expecting to get a lot out of it. I’ve been to a lot of staff development workshops and I just wasn’t feeling too optimistic about this one. Happily, I was completely surprised and actually came away with a lot of useful information and concrete steps to help improve security and communication at the library. I took a ton of notes (hooray for the Blackberry and being able to type while listening) but have pared it down to my essential take-aways.

  • It is okay to deny access on the basis of behavior. Everything should be addressed on the basis of behavior (not appearance or other facets that invite bias/judgment).
  • All staff must be properly trained and must treat everyone the same (no bias). Going easy on
    a behavior problem or passing the buck to the designated bad cop makes everyone’s jobs harder and team players do not do that to one another. Staff who refuse to be team players become behavior problems themselves.
  • Rules for library use (what we call the Code of Conduct at MPOW) don’t need to include illegal things (they’re already not allowed and repeating them just makes the list of rules needlessly longer). “Any behavior that is disruptive to library use is not allowed” covers many things and gives you the leeway to address any disruptive situation.
  • Along with the rules you need guidelines for enforcement (3 strikes and you’re out, etc), which must be applied consistently by all staff.
  • The library environment (what is acceptable and what is not) is all about what the administration wants. All staff agree to whatever that is by being part of the team.
  • Document security concerns with incident reports, hash mark logs of common corrections (every time you tell someone not to run [or whatever other common infraction], make a hash mark), and potential problem logs (situations where you feel someone is pushing boundaries or could be a problem in the future).
  • Establish good relationships with local police and representatives from social service agencies.
  • Review rules and procedures periodically and revise based on what’s working or not. Don’t be in denial about what isn’t effective.
  • Managers must be able to make expedient decisions in difficult situations. An MLS does not make you a good manager. Management is a skill that not everyone can attain.
  • A security staff member must be a good verbal communicator, comfortable approaching patrons, enjoy working with people, and in reasonable physical shape (able to run after someone if necessary). Security staff should also be trained in physical security tactics in case physical contact is needed.
  • Approach problem behaviors with a confident frame of mind. Think communication, not confrontation. Be cautiously confident in terms of physical approach – allow plenty of personal space (18-20 inches minimum).
  • Don’t apologize for doing your job. You’re informing, not asking. Inform them and move on – hanging over them solicits response where none is needed (and it probably won’t be positive).
  • Don’t turn your back after correcting a behavior.
  • If someone is visibly drunk or stoned (not just the smell of alcohol on their breath), call 911 immediately.
  • Don’t waste your time trying to apply rational reasons to irrational acts.
  • If you have rules (and you have to!) you will have to tell someone no. You must be comfortable doing this (practice if you need to) or you shouldn’t be working in a public library.
  • Never argue with a behavior problem. No=no.
  • If you don’t like kids or are afraid of them you need to recognize this as your own bias/weakness and you must overcome it. It is not okay to show bias toward any group of patrons. Staff often avoid contact with teens which sets everyone up for failure. All staff should acknowledge their presence like they do for all other patrons.
  • Look at behavior problems from the inside out. Staff who encounter the most problems are often in the most denial and have the most problems in their own behavior.
  • Be prepared to respond fairly to unfair treatment – this is public service.

5 questions to ask yourself (for working w/the public)
1. Am I passive or aggressive by nature?
Most library workers are passive and must go against the grain to do their job. Aggressive people need to know when to back off or step lightly.
2. Am I emotional or logical by nature?
Most library workers are emotional and must consciously not take things personally. Logical people must learn not to be paralyzed by analysis.
3. Am I introverted or extroverted by nature?
Most library workers are introverted and must learn to step up to be effective. Extroverts need to know when to back off.
4. Do I like people?
Libraries are a people business. If you don’t like people you should decide whether you’re willing to
change your attitude all the time you’re at work, or if you should leave for another profession.
5. Do I like my job? Am I burned out?
Attitude is just as important as any other part of the job. How you feel can color your perspective and thus all interactions with patrons. If you find yourself saying that you “didn’t go to library school to do this” then you have a bad attitude which must be changed. Public service includes all manner of duties and you must accept and embrace that to be happy working in a public library.

I’m looking forward to mulling all of this and figuring out some ways I think we could improve at MPOW. We don’t have a ton of security concerns, but I think we could always do better.


3 thoughts on “Black Belt Librarians

  1. LOVE this. Can you PLEASE implement all this at VML? It would make my life as a page/peon in relation to full-time staff member’s behavior that much easier.

  2. We’re working on it at my library, too. I think that most libraries are constantly working on it, actually. 🙂 You should make some concrete suggestions (stuff like keeping a tally of the types of behavior problems that happen regularly would be low-hanging fruit) – even if they don’t get used/implemented, you are at least trying to help/be part of the solution. I know that sounds sort of lame, but for me (as a manager), anyway, I do value that kind of input from people at all places in the organization. 🙂

  3. […] discussion in the post and the comments reminds me of the speaker I saw earlier this month (Warren Graham), who talked about dealing with behavior in libraries and who advocates for fewer, […]

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