Wednesday, June 20, 2012

To see ourselves as others see us

Friends know me for who I am.  Colleagues know my strengths and weaknesses.  And musicologists can read my scholarly musings and draw their own conclusions.

Others, however, see a short, round, middle-aged, greying nonentity behind a library counter.  Now, the majority of those "others" are nice, decent folk who appreciate that I try to help them as much as I can.  The rest neither know me, nor have any appreciation of the expertise that I bring to my role, but they're polite all the same.

Lastly, there are those who feel so superior that they must stamp on me from a great height, raising their voices as they interrogate me about our working practices, determined that they are Right and we are Wrong.  If someone talks down to me, is rude and does their damnedest to belittle me, then I'm sorry, mate, but you're a bully.  I don't even know who you are, and I've never met you before, but I object to your manner.

Now, having a PhD doesn't make me an efficient librarian. A handful of librarianship qualifications don't prove anything either.  And an old music diploma?  Pshaw!  Irrelevant. Thirty years in the profession?  Put her down, she's past it.  But what would it take to prove to you that I know my job?

I feel mentally battered, but also very angry.  I wouldn't speak to anyone like that, be they senior management or the rawest office junior, so why should I have to be on the receiving end?  I went out and bought smarter, more "efficient, professional" looking shirts today - just in case my plain, beige Traidcraft tee-shirt contributed to my Nonentity Look.  I hate myself for that.  Because actually, I know that nothing would stop a bully being a bully.


Kim said...


Sorry you had a bad'un take their **** out on you... I'm a librarian too and some people just treat you as a doormat - and its never the ones you expect either.
Luckily I work for a professional institute and therefore a v quiet library as our members prefer not to use books unless they have to.

I also have an absolutely brilliant boss who takes no interest in the library but will happily talk to people who decide they have a problem with our serviceand put them back in their place!
For example, writing back to a man who accused us of calling him a thief because we sent him a second overdue letter (although he'd had one the last time he used the library), and my boss told him that he should have just returned the books on time, and if he didn't like it he didn't have to use the library.

The best was when a member of the public called and demanded information that doesn't exist, and got very shirty with me and demanded to speak to my line manager when I said I couldn't help him. After explaining I was the manager, I eventually agreed to try and put him through to my boss who I assumed had already left for the day - just as I say this my boss walks into the library, takes the proffered phone and tells the guy that he can't help him, if he wants more info to call another institute, and if he's not happy with that then tough. Epic :)
There have been times when my boss hasn't saved the day - such as the man who decided his local council was racist for demanding council tax and wanted legal advice, but insisted repeatedly that he needed to speak to someone with an education. My response that I have three degrees and wasn't sure how I could be any more educated was ignored and he carried on shouting down the phone....

Worst ever customer experience though was working airside at Stansted for a well-known pharmacy chain on a Friday evening, as a disgruntled father put his family's sandwiches on the next counter while he queued and refused to move them to my till counter when it was his turn. When I told him I could only serve him from my till he threw them at me one by one in rage. Oh, and a young toddler had a tantrum on the floor so the mother left it and walked out of the shop for a good ten minutes....

Not trying to out-bad your tale (as I'm sure you have loads) but hopefully a bit of context/comparison will help you feel a bit less doormat-like, even though its generally a thankless profession, just remember that for every one patron who is a complete ******* there are at least 50 who are very grateful for your knowledge and expertise, and that you made such an effort to help them.
Keep swimming and wear what you like, who cares what other people think? Oh, and somewhere out there is a LiveJournal group called 'The Society for Librarians who say Motherf***er'. It often makes me glad for small mercies ;)

Pseudo Super mum said...

Thank you for your support, Kim. Your NON-library experiences do also put things in perspective.

Felicity from Down Under said...

You're right that a bully will always be a bully, but it's possible to alleviate the effects of the behaviour.