Sunday, June 29, 2014

The mean ones are my favorites!

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!

1 comment:


    I thought I would try that out. *Ahem* Anyway, I am a nearly finished MLIS student who has stumbled upon the intriguing world of prison libraries. While I never took a dedicated course on special libraries, in the rest of my coursework I have never even heard of prison libraries. Would you be able to (presumably, in a new post) go into more details as to how you acquired your position? I believe you alluded to some of the early parts of the hiring process in early posts, but I am interested in concrete descriptions/information of the process. I will ask an assortment of questions which I hope you may answer, or make you think of additional questions for us tentative/prospective prison librarians!

    I have applied to several prison libraries in the Midwest (where I live), as well as more "regular" libraries. Most prison libraries which I've applied to seem to only require a bachelor's degree with a preference for library coursework and/or experience. In your experience, does this hold true or have I just found a few exceptions? Some, of course, require the MLIS/other names for library degrees.

    How long did it take for you, approximately, to here back from your institution from the time you applied? I think you said in one of your first entries it was six months or so.

    Do you know what competition for prison librarian positions is like? Nearly everyone I've told about my applications--librarians and non-librarians alike--have reacted along the lines of "Why on earth would you want to work in a PRISON?!" I take this to mean fewer of my colleague MLIS students/new librarians are interested in such positions, though my circle of friends/neighbors is hardly a scientific population sample.

    If I may ask without you revealing information that is sensitive and/or otherwise of a kind that should not be shared on a public blog, is your library in a state or federal institution? I've only applied to state institutions, at this point (they're the positions I've found open). Do you know of any significant differences between state and federal prisons? For that question, I mean anything and everything: the library itself, the hiring process, expectations going in, and anything else. Or perhaps each prison is far too unique, to your knowledge, to be easily labeled beyond the basics of who manages the institution?

    This is, by far, my favorite librarian blog (and there are so many!!); it's informative (+1 extra credit librarian point) for the subject area, it's amusing (Quotable Quotes!), and it interests non-librarians with whom I've shared it in the field. Answers for me (and others) aside, keep blogging and keep being (what I assume, from the blog) an excellent prison librarian!

    ~Andreas, a prospective prison librarian.