patience may never work

I’ve always thought that at least half of my dislike for reference work is related to the fact that I’m not very patient. But.

Halfway through my afternoon reference shift, I had already faced down the following:

  • An alarm bell from a student trying to go out the emergency exit that is marked with three foot-wide eye-height stop signs.
  • A student who came to the desk and asked, simply, “did you fix the problem yet?” and when I asked him to elaborate, he said, “the one with the computers. From before.”
  • Two students who were unwilling to ask either of the 2 services desks (one 10 feet away, one 15) for help with the printer, as requested on the sign that they moved aside in order to take all the paper from the color printer and put it into the black and white printer.

They were not, of course, the sum total of students I interacted with. There was the girl who needed to find a call number, and the faculty member asking about altered books in art, and the girl who was trying to figure out the best way to reproduce an image in color for projection, and the student who needed a print map of the development regions of the Adirondacks, not to mention the dozens who came, used our services, and never entered my line of sight.

But here’s the thing. Given the frustrations I feel when dealing with the bulleted users above, I don’t know that more patience will ever help me be a better reference librarian. This is just the sort of public service environment that sets my teeth on edge. Users who demonstrate willful ignorance, lackluster attempts at communication, and blatant disregard for their environment won’t get less frustrating if I’m more patient. I’ll just be more patient while I’m frustrated.

I want to serve our users. I’m dedicated to our mission to serve our users. I know college students are in a growth period in their lives, academically, emotionally, socially, and culturally. I understand the importance of that time in a young person’s life. I also know how unprepared some of our students are for any kind of academic rigor, and I know that universities are bureaucratic nightmares full of arcane and inscrutable rules, regulations, systems, and setups. I know that we contribute to all of that — the learning, the growing, and the red tape — for better or for worse.

But I just don’t think, anymore, that more patience will make me like this particular subset of users any more than I already don’t. Which means that I should just resign myself to not really enjoying my work as a reference librarian, no matter how much I think that if I were a better person I’d enjoy it more. Patience may never work.

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