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Making Exceptions

I know it's been awhile, but this afternoon I had phone interactions with two regulars who wanted me to make exceptions to the rules for them, and I couldn't have felt more different about the the situations.

The first was with a guy who's a little strange, and has questionable hygiene habits, but he's almost always very positive in his interactions with the staff (and sometimes maybe a little overeager to interact with staff). He called frantic that he wasn't going to be able to return his items on time because he'd had an altercation with mall security earlier in the day and they had essentially barred him from coming to the mall (which our Bridge facility is located inside) for two weeks. He asked if I could print off a list of items he had out and send it to him in the mail. Once he calmed down a little I was able to explain to him that we also have drop boxes at the grocery stores in town, so he could return his items there until he was able to come back to the library. I was more than glad to send out a receipt of items he had out (something we normally don't do) so that he could avoid returning his items late and it felt good to let him know that there was another option for returning his library materials.

The second patron is rather notorious among staff for demanding special treatment. I'm all for making exceptions in the case of emergencies or special circumstances, but when a patron demands services outside our normal policies every time he or she uses the library, then I feel like we're rewarding the patrons who whine the loudest and longest. Today she was upset because she'd sent a friend to pick up her holds and when our staff member went to the holds shelf, she missed one of her books. I apologized to her for the mistake and then pointed out that she had 3 more days to pick it up before it would be given to the next patron on the holds list. This wasn't good enough for her and since we did actually mess up in this case, I felt compelled to do something for her, but at the same time I've dealt with her so many times when she's demanded special treatment when we haven't done anything wrong, that I really didn't want to bend over backwards for her even this one time. She's nothing if not persistent, though, so after telling me for 10 minutes how unfairly she thinks the library has been treating her, I went ahead and made an exception and bent the rules for her yet again.

Normally I feel good when I make an exception to help patrons out. I know it's something that will really help them out and yet won't hurt the library if it's happening just this once. In the first case I knew the patron really enjoys coming to the library and generally tries very hard to bring back his items on time, so I knew sending him a list of when his items were due would most likely mean that we got our items back on time and that he would continue checking out items once he could come back because he wouldn't have to worry about huge overdue fees- sounds like a win-win situation to me.

In the second case, though, I feel like the exception I made might mean that the patron gets the book she wants, but she also might just demand special treatment next week when she explains why she can't pick up her holds on time yet again and why she must remain at the top of the hold list even though she doesn't know when she'll next be able to come to the library. So even though I broke the rules for her this one time when it wasn't her fault, I feel like it's just going to encourage her to continue demanding special treatment even when there are no circumstances to warrant it, which means that I just disrupted the natural order of the library and the patron still isn't satisfied. Definitely a lose-lose situation.

So I guess all of this has left me wondering, what's the best way to deal with patrons who are never happy? Especially ones who refuse to leave or get off the phone until you bend over backwards to do exactly what they want (which still doesn't make them happy, by the way). It's very hard working in public service, where your goal is generally to make sure the patron leaves happy, when some people refuse to be satisfied. Anyone who can figure out the solution to that problem deserves a million dollars in my mind.

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