Big Ideas, General, Management, Uncategorized

Rethinking the Rules of Behavior: Part 2

“A policy is a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.”


Last week, I wrote about how we ditched the rules and came up with a set of Expectations for Behavior at Chapel Hill Public Library.  This approach represented a pretty radical departure – both in the wording of the policy and the mindset at its foundation – so we knew that engaging staff on this approach would be critical to success.  Here are some of the ways we did that:

We made it easy.

We created a three question test to use when faced with a situation:

Is the situation at hand illegal?

Is it unsafe?

Is it making others uncomfortable?

If the answer is yes, then staff should act.  They don’t have to remember all the words of the policy, just these three measures to apply.  

We train around it.

We set up role play exercises at staff meetings to illustrate common occurrences and asked staff to react.  One example that was helpful was a situation with a patron sleeping.  We asked staff to consider the three question test and apply it to these two situations:

 Scenario 1 – Patron has laptop, phone, and briefcase on table and is sleeping.  

Scenario 2 – Two patrons sitting at a table together, laptop, phones, bags on table, one is sleeping and the other is studying. 

For the first one, staff agreed that sleeping in a public space with all of your belongings out in the open isn’t really a good idea and is potentially unsafe, so action made sense.  In the role play, staff rapped lightly on the table or just spoke to the patron until they woke up, then asked if they were okay, then let them know that sleeping while their laptop and purse were out in the open is not a good idea.

In the second scenario, the sleeping patron is with someone who is awake, so their stuff is probably not at risk.  Staff agreed that action wasn’t needed here.  However, if that person was snoring loudly and making others uncomfortable, they agreed that they would act.

A little kid by himself attempting to jump down ten steps?  Action might be a good idea as this is a little unsafe.  A little kid with his parent attempting to jump down a few steps?  No action needed as the parent is present and responsible for the child’s safety.

A patron enjoying a bagel and latte while they work a library table? No problem. Food and drink is allowed throughout the library.  A patron with a double anchovy, double garlic pizza in an area where lots of users are?  The smell might bother others, so we might act by letting them know and then offer to save their table for them while they move out to the lobby to finish off their pie.

In these trainings, we reiterate that every situation is different, so every solution will be different as well.  We can’t possibly predict every behavior or situation and a corresponding staff response. We can create policies that let users know what is expected of all and empower staff to use their best judgement and react accordingly.  And we reiterate that the reaction will most likely be different every time.  And that’s okay.

We talk about it.

We encourage staff members to share situations that they have faced and talk about how things went, what the outcome was, and what they might have done differently.  These debriefs might happen in a staff meeting, one-on-one with a supervisor, or among peers.

We also talk about it with users.  We have a bulletin board where we post responses to all of our comment cards and behavior issues sometimes come up.  A patron complained on a card about hearing music through someone’s earbuds and suggested that we needed to prohibit people from listening to music at high levels.  We let them know that we don’t have a policy on this nor do we intend to create one.  We also let them know that if they are having a bad experience at the library or someone’s behavior is making them uncomfortable, to please let staff know and we will act.

We’ve had this approach in place for a couple of years now.  I can’t tell you if there’s been an uptick in running in the library or if sleeping is on the decline. Every day is different, every person is different, and every situation is different.

I can tell you that we take seriously our commitment to the library as a place for everyone, and recognize that it is shared by the community and used by many different people for very different reasons.  That’s why we were deliberate in creating a system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.

Questions about this approach?  Comments?  Please share!

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