Greetings and happy Sunday future prison librarians! This weekend I met a new friend while at outdoor yoga. We were chatting before the class started and it came up that I am a prison librarian and it turns out that during her attorney career she did criminal defense for a year so she is familiar with the types of people who are my patrons: "You either get the really nice and grateful ones or you get the super mean ones."
It is true, and there are an inordinate number of mean ones at my library. But early on in my career I decided that those would be my projects, and my goal was to, if not make them into nice ones, at least make them into tolerable ones so I could deal with them until they parolled or transferred to another facility. Plus, anyone can be nice to the nice ones and I like a good challenge.
My plan began very simply by making sure to smile, make eye contact and say hello to every person I saw in the library and out. Offender or not, most people have had it ingrained into them that the socially appropriate response when someone says hello is to say hello back. By quietly and unforcefully making it apparent that I am a pleasant person, I slowly began to realize my goal of making life in the library a lot easier on myself.
Another tactic I use is to make sure to walk around and make sure everyone is finding everything ok. Even if I had previously had an altercation with an offender, I made a special effort to talk to them in a non-threatening, I'm-here-to-help-you-with-your-information-needs way so that they would know that I didn't hold a grudge against them just because they were grumpy with me one time. This also helps model the behavior that I want to see from them which is a win-win. I believe the Dalai Lama said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." Everyone has a bad day. When you work in prison, you absolutely can not go around burning bridges with everyone who annoys you. If you want to build professional collateral, show that you are the mature one who is willing to enforce good behavior and then move on once the bad behavior has stopped.
Another tool in my tool kit is a sense of humor. I think people respond much better to humor and when you can make them laugh they are more likely to pay attention to you. Now, not every situation is best handled this way (for example, seeing someone getting stabbed in the library would be a good example of where it would be better to not use humor) but if a patron is mad that they can't check out a book they found on the shelf because it's on hold for someone else, that would be a good way to diffuse it and move the conversation to something more positive.
I am pleased to report that some of my most annoying patrons when I first got there have become much more manageable and some even say "HI MS. LIBERRY LADY!" when they see me across the yard. When I tell them no yelling across the yard, they apologize and whisper it instead. It is very important to build good rapport with all patrons because you never know when the proverbial poop will hit the proverbial fan and you have to withdraw some of your professional collateral to save your life.
Until next time!