Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Put People First

I was sitting in church this past Sunday listening to a woman tell a story about a piece of advice her older sister had given her which had become a guiding principle in her life. The piece of advice was, “put people first.” This axiom could apply to all areas of life and for me, I’ve been thinking about it in relation to library work. We’ve begun learning about the reference interview in LIS 407 and on Saturday we watched videos of a “bad” reference interaction and a “good” interaction and discussed the behavioral performance guidelines set out by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). RUSA’s guidelines read a lot like the basics of being a kind, considerate, caring person with a few library-specific points thrown in. Stuff like: make eye contact, acknowledge patrons with a friendly greeting, focus complete attention on the patron’s need, and communicate in a “receptive, cordial, and supportive manner.” One of my classmates said that most of the guidelines were common sense, and another said that they were basically good customer service.

I agree that the RUSA guidelines are simple, basic, and common sense, but this does not mean that they are easy or that following them is automatic for decently good people. How many times have I been going about my business, completely preoccupied by my own thoughts, concerns, and priorities when a random act of kindness from a stranger jolted me out of my self-absorbed stupor? Being preoccupied with ourselves is automatic, but kindness takes some special effort and focus. Kindness has no gender and no age. It is not affiliated with any particular personality type or level of education. Kindness is universal: it crosses language barriers, absorbs cultural differences, and dissolves hard feelings. When I think back to the videos that we watched in class, I realize that the primary difference between the two is that one librarian put her patron first – above all else in that moment – while the other librarian remained preoccupied with her own concerns.

I think people are at the heart of librarianship and it is for this reason that so many librarians are passionate about what they do. We all know from personal experience what a difference a simple, kind interaction can make when we’re having a bad day. In class we were encouraged to be that difference in somebody’s day as we sit at the reference desk, fielding whatever requests may come. I wonder how this principle applies to archives. This week I will begin my internship and visit an archival repository. I plan to be looking out to see how even in archives, whose focus may be a bit different from libraries, the idea to put people first can permeate every aspect of the work.