I must preface this post with a happy disclaimer: I love library customers. I love helping them. I love giving them a good feeling about the library. I value great customer service and I love to provide it. At least 90% of our customers are polite and appreciative. Perhaps another 5% are developmentally or socially disabled, and may or may not be conventionally polite. No problem. The other five percent is not a big deal.
Another preface: I am always very patient and polite. Some of you know about an incident when I lost my temper with a customer - with good reason! a dangerously neglected baby! - but I used that experience as a learning opportunity, and I've never come close to doing that again. I've perfected the facial expression and body language that doesn't agree but doesn't challenge: the tight semi-smile, the slight shrug, the noncommittal head-tilt, the raised eyebrows. A kind of "whatever you say, you won't get a rise out of me" kind of face.
So when I tell you these are my least favourite customers, you can be sure of two things: one, they are a very minor part of my job, and two, I keep my feelings well hidden. But I do need to vent!
Least Favourite Customer #1: The Unbeliever
Unbeliever: I'm here to pick up a recreation pass for my father.
L: I'm afraid we don't have recreation passes here. What kind of pass is it, maybe I can help you find the correct place to get it.
Un: No, it is here. The email said I can pick it up at any community centre.
L: I see. This is not a community centre. There is the Recreation & Parks department across the way, but they close at 4:30. [It is now 8:45, 15 minutes before closing.] Can I get the name of the pass so I can check for you?
Un: No! It said any community centre! It said I could pick one up here!
L: I'm sorry, sir, but this is not a community centre. It's a library. We don't have recreation passes here. I'd be happy to--
Un: I am here to pick up a pass! Just give me the pass!
L: Sir, I would be happy to help you if I could. If I had the pass you need, I would certainly give it to you. Could you please tell me--
Un: This! [Pointing frantically at a printed-out email.] This! This!
L: Let me check online and see what I can find. [I Google the name of the pass, find the page immediately, and turn my monitor so Un can see it.] Here is the list of community centres where you can pick up the pass. Do you live nearby? The closest one--
Un: Right here! [Frantically stabbing the screen with his finger.] Right here, it says I can come here! Right here!
L: That's the Burnhamthorpe Recreation Centre. That's on Burnhamthorpe near Dixie.
Un: No, not that, not that! Scroll down! Scroll down!
L: These are all the community centres in Mississauga. It looks like you can pick up that pass at any of those, or at the Recreation and Parks department across the way [I show him where that is], but they do close at 4:30.
Un: [Muttering] Oh. OK. [Walks away.]
[Internal only: Don't you think if I had the pass I would freaking give it to you???]
Least Favourite Customer #2: The Ranter
I saw a Ranter just this morning, moments after we opened for the day.
L: Good morning, how may I help you?
Ranter: I don't have a question, just a general comment. Did you see the article in the paper about the decline of math scores?
L: [External facial composure, noncommittal look and slight shrug. Internal eye-rolling. I recognize a Ranter and I know my goal is to get rid of him as soon as possible. If he baits me into discussion, I'm sunk.]
Ranter: What do you think of that? What do you make of a society that doesn't teach kids the basics? I mean, we have 9, 10, 11 year old kids using calculators, punching buttons! That doesn't teach you anything! No one learns the basics anymore!
L: [Quietly] I wouldn't really know what is taught. [Internal: Why are you telling me this????]
R: Let me ask you, do you have any kids in the school system anymore? [Whole lotta assumptions going on there!]
L: [slightest shrug] I've been seeing stories about declining test scores all my life. I don't put too much stock in it.
R: Right, right. Around here, we have all the Asian families, they send their kids to Kumon, where they drill, drill, drill, and they get the high math scores.
L: [External: smile gone, replaced by slight look of inquiry and waiting] [Internal: Where are we going with this? How loud is this guy going to be, and what will he say about "the Asians"?]
R: Do you see the names of the kids who win the math and science prizes? They're all Asian. You don't see one Canadian kid on that list.
L: [slight smile] Those children are Canadian, too.
R: Yes, of course, of course they are Canadian. But you get my point, right? You know what I'm saying?
L: [tight lipped, nod] I believe I do.
R: All right then.
Ranter is not always racist. But Ranter comes to the desk only to rant, to announce, to declaim.
Should I feel sorry for him because he has no one who will listen and he must resort to Ranting to strangers? Maybe, maybe not. But really, all I think at the time is, Why are you telling me this????