Year of Gratitude - Day 105 - Public Service Patience

There are few experiences that have given me more life lessons than that of working at a public service desk at a library. I've worked at UM-Dearborn's Mardigian Library, then Wayne State's undergrad library, Southfield Public Library and West Bloomfield Public Library. At all of these places, I have dealt with the public in every age, color and creed. I've dealt with the rich and the homeless. I've dealt with people slogging through community college and the ones trying to find the Arc of the Covenant. I've dealt with soccer moms, former convicts and the mentally challenged.

What this rainbow of personalities and characters has taught me is patience. It's taught me understanding. It's taught me that while questions might sound silly, there really is no stupid question. It's a fine line. When I share with non-librarians some of the things people call for, they response with "I would never call the library for that" or "I thought you just talk about books." Talking about the profession generally entails some teaching. Yes, people call the library for far more than books. They call to fill out their star charts, settle bets and find how to use "who" or "whom" correctly. Some need help with their homework. Some need help with finances, real estate, scholarships.

It really doesn't matter what people need, most librarians will help. I have worked on the front line in libraries for 14 years now and I have gained patience that I could not have gained anywhere else. Now that I think of it, I didn't really think you could teach patience, but that's exactly what working with so many people has taught me. Everyone has something going on. As a public servant, you learn to navigate their personality, their baggage and there level of ability. And the more patient you are, the better each encounter is.

I still catch myself sometimes getting impatient. My speaking gets very terse and my face hardens one notch from a scowl. I have been able to realize this about myself and get my act together mid-interaction. Great customer service takes practice and self-reflection.

A perfect example of why I want to be the best librarian I can be is this: I was volunteering at an awards ceremony in Southfield. I noticed a man finishing his drink before he entered the event. He kept giving me side looks and finally came up to me and said, you look very familiar - where do I know you from?" As soon as he spoke, I immediately realized he had been a patron at the Southfield Public Library. He said he used to go there all the time because he was looking for employment. When he found a job, he said, he stopped coming. It was a great encounter and awesome to hear what our great library and staff did for him. He was so grateful. I welcomed him back to enjoy some of the more leisurely library offerings.

This encounter, and hundreds like it, will make me want to continue to practice kindness and patience whenever dealing with others. It is worth it.

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