I can still chant the mantra of my initial foray into the workforce: “Thank you for selecting Pizza Hut Special Delivery. This is Robb speaking. How may I help you?” I often wonder if my innate desire to provide rapid responses to my patrons stems from the time sensitive requirements of getting quasi-Italian food to the doorsteps of the greater Danville, Kentucky area. It really wouldn’t surprise me, because I learned a lot from my less glamorous gigs back in the day. These lessons made me a better librarian today.
For knowing our collection, nothing could have prepared me more than my job at Video Solutions. We were not Blockbuster, and usually it was just one person working. I had to know what the newly added titles were. I also had to keep track of which titles were circulating, which titles were overdue, and the titles that customers KNEW they had returned. I even had to maintain the “special collection” in the back room behind the curtain. Also, our patrons were often interested in recommendations for what to watch, based on my “expertise.” This meant I had to venture outside of watching my own preferred genres to meet their needs, even to the extent of slasher flicks, tearjerkers, hunting shows, and (shudder) Barney videos. I was occasionally asked for a recommendation from the back room, but there are some choices patrons just need to make for themselves. My favorite customer questions were the video store equivalent of “I’m pretty sure it was a red book.” A lot of people were looking for a movie, but couldn’t quite remember the title. That was my first experience with the reference interview:
Did you see it at the movies, on video, or on TV? TV, I think.
What was it about? There were some guys in a prison that start singing.
Do you remember anyone who was in it? I think it was either Charlie Sheen, or his brother.
Were they in the Army? I’m pretty sure they were.
That’s Cadence. It’s on the second aisle, bottom shelf.
Considering I hadn’t seen Cadence at the time, I was pretty proud of that. It’s actually good, if you’re interested. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101531/.
While the video store had a good clientele, it couldn’t completely prepare me for the wide spectrum of patrons that I’ve encountered in my chosen career. Thankfully, I had another stepping stone – the 24 hour convenience store. Not everyone rents movies. EVERYBODY buys gas, and this wasn’t in the wishy-washy days of pay at the pump. During cashier training, you learn that when you’re dealing with 800 customers a day, you get to experience pretty much all ages, races, and creeds. There are lessons on how to handle transactions with customers who may have language barriers or disabilities. There is also training that teaches one how to “suggestive sell” customers a flea collar to go with their motor oil. However, no training can adequately prepare you for what may come in search of fuel, milk, and chili dogs after the Witching Hour. Most customers were non-descript, but some? For good taste’s sake, let’s just say they stood out! We all have problem patrons from time to time. However, to this point (knock on wood), all of my library patrons have been clothed. During those interesting evenings, in between mopping and counting cigarettes, I quickly learned that:
(1) it’s a good practice to look people in the eye;
(2) you can’t control how your customers behave, but you can control how you do;
(3) and most people will appreciate it if you take the time to help them, no matter who they are.
One morning during my first academic library job, I could see a student taking the short (I don’t want to interrupt) steps toward my office. I motioned for her to come inside my office. I’ll never forget her next words. She told me “I know you aren’t on duty, but you’re just so good at listening to questions.” I can’t imagine a better compliment. Our patrons are better served when librarians have that air of approachability. While I believe it to be a common trait in our profession, it can still be honed. I don’t know whether my attitude toward the customer either sprung from my odd jobs of the past, or was just honed by them. However, to this day, I will be shopping in a store and, no matter what I’m wearing, someone will ask me if I work there. I used to wear a smock that read “Ask Me. I like to help.” I guess it rubbed off.
Faulkner University Jones School of Law Library
“It’s great to learn, because knowledge is power!”
Schoolhouse Rocky (1972)