Bridges Out of Poverty
I was at the Hudson Museum all day today at a workshop entitled Bridges Out of Poverty. It was not what I expected. The focus on the workshop was coming up with ideas on how to improve library service for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was not necessarily focused just on poverty, but on our attitudes and the way we created barriers to service for people who had a difficult time encountering the library setting.
We started with identifying many of the barriers to getting service in the public library. One of our first projects was identifying tbe basic difficulties a library patron would have getting to and using the library. My job was to identify a patron who was coming for reference services.
We created a mythical visitor who first had trouble finding a parking spot, then had difficulty going through the large steel doors and up the two flights of stairs to the circulation desk. From there they passed through a detection system with a large metal bar which had to pressed aside. Then they entered a room without enough signage indicating where to go to get reference. They first had to go to the circulation desk which was at the entrance and the circulation clerk had to point out the sign across the room at reference.
Then I had to imagine various difficulties associated with the reference desk. A line of people waiting to be helped. A phone ringing off the hook while there was only one person at the desk. No map to the different sections in the library. Then when the person was helped, no way for the librarian to get up and walk them to the area where their book was. From there it was handed off to the technical service librarian who had to describe how to build a map of the library and properly arrange signage.
It was a long constant barrage of questions. They even had us relate what we had done from our last session. Apparently the childrens room created a goodie bag for new patrons and the adult room created a whole slew of bookmarks and exhibits.
The lunch was not too bad. We had wraps, salad, and coffee. Mostly, I sat with my colleagues. A lot of the staff were there. I had done the first part of the workshop amost a year before.
It seemed half of the day was about attitude readjustment, why we should be considerate of people from different economic classes. How, we should take the time to really listen and be polite to everyone no matter what their background was. It was a lesson on understanding others or at least how to pretend to understand others discreetly. They keyword was understand, understand, and understand some more.
Pretending to understand others discreetly is a large part of a librarians job, no matter how frustrating this may be. This goes for all of you customer service people as well. Remember, no grins, no raising eyebrows, listen closely, a polite but gentle voice, and a willingness to be flexible about how you talk to people is an absolute must. And most of all have a sense of humor and a thick skin. Park your ego at your desk with your coat.
They even did the classic angry customer roleplay which always happens at these things. Usually someone is angry about a library fine they received and doesn't want to pay...
Then we spent the rest of the day brainstorming on different ideas on how to make the library more accessible to people from many different backgrounds. Our first exercise was create twenty five different ideas on how to improve service. Each table had a director of a large library in Westchester County and their staff. Our director was there. A person from Westchester Library System was there as well.
So, it was one of those things where your job was too discretely perform and do a good job in front of everyone else. I think I did alright. We winnowed the list of twenty five things down to several activities which we promised to do; do outreach to troubled groups so they can visit the library like the group home, the drug rehabilitation clinic, and the mental rehabilitation clinic in our neighborhood, open a tutoring center for teens, and create a community survey.
This thing has a lot of interesting political ramifications. I am not sure what they are right now, but they should be fascinating. The whole thing was kind of exhausting and a bit relentless.
I am glad the day was over.
It was a great relief to get on the train and head home. I got to crack open a book and read a bit. I even wrote a short review of Reading The OED while sitting on the train. I am going to type the review tomorrow. I am too exhausted to do anything else tonight.