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Marketing the Library
Expecting the Unexpected


Public Relations/Marketing | Publicity | Volunteers | Library Displays | Outreach | Programming | Booktalks | Expecting the Unexpected | Bibliography

When working in any type of library, maintaining a positive image in the public eye can be a daunting task. Being prepared for planned activities, such as marketing, programming or booktalks is extremely important. With careful planning and adequate time, goals can be set and arrangements made to provide the best possible service within your library community. In addition to planned activities and marketing, it is also imperative to be prepared for the situations that are least expected.

One of the most challenging tasks in providing public service is dealing with difficult customers/patrons that are an inevitable part of the library process. How difficult situations are handled play a key role in how your library is perceived in the public eye. Being prepared for these difficult situations will allow you to maintain composure and deal effectively with a variety of conflicts, from a disgruntled patron to an organized group of tax protestors.

Below you will find information related to handling such conflicts, as well as additional resources for advocating library service on a local and national basis.

Dealing With Difficult Patrons


Dealing with Difficult Customers - Article by Valerie Lipow

Customer service is the key to a retailers success, but how to deal with difficult customers can turn retail jobs into a nightmare. This article will provide strategies for defusing tense or volatile situations.

Dealing with Difficult Customers in Seven Basic Steps - Article by Dr. John T. Self

One disgruntled customer can lead to the loss of at least six others by word of mouth alone. This is an informative article from The Restaurant Voice; targeted toward restaurant service but applicable to all types of public service.

Dealing with Difficult Customers: The Do's and Dont's of Conflict Resolution

The first contact approach is very effective in de-escalating a potentially difficult situation. The following steps are easy to follow and can be used for virtually any situation.

Dealing with Difficult Situations, or the Problem Patron - Article by Susan Henricks

Problem patrons represent a small group, but every library needs to spend time preparing for all problems whether they be potential or real.

Librarians Under Siege - Article by Richard Bermack

With cutbacks in social services, libraries have become a refuge for the dispossessed and mentally ill. On rare occasions, other visitors slip in a gun. How can librarians protect themselves against patrons who are troubled or violent?


Behavior Management in the School Library Media Center, Edited by Thomas L. Hart. (Chicago : American Library Association, 1985). Behavior modification and library instruction for school library media centers.

Defusing the Angry Patron: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians and Paraprofessionals (How to Do It Manual for Libraries, No 100), by Rhea Joyce Rubin. (Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 1555703720; January 2000). If you work in a library, you sometimes deal with difficult and angry patrons. Rubin is a library consultant who also gives workshops for library staff on learning how to handle angry patrons; her book is ideal for front-line librarians and paraprofessionals. Steps staff can take to prevent anger in the first place follow an overview of types of anger. Rubin explains 20 basic coping strategies.

Helping the Difficult Library Patron: New Approaches to Examining and Resolving a Long-Standing and Ongoing Problem, Edited by Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah, PhD. (Haworth Press; ISBN: 0789017318; July 2002). Insightful information on dealing with an issue as old as the library profession: interacting with problem patrons. Provided to help you serve and make the work of your library staff less stressful, more productive, and increasingly meaningful.

Patron Behavior in Libraries: A Handbook of Positive Approaches to Negative Situations, Edited by Beth McNeil and Denise J. Johnson. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1996). This title offers a comprehensive approach to dealing with a multitude of difficult patron situations. It also offers a guide to developing behavior policies for your library


Steps to dealing with a problem patron

1st Deal with Patrons Feelings

       Allow patron to vent

       Empathize and show that you care

       Show you are listening

       Apologize without blaming

       Ask patron what she or he wants

       Repeat back to make sure you understand

       Reassure the patron, but be realistic

2nd Deal with the Problem

       Determine what the patron wants

       Summarize and restate for clarity

       Share information about what you can and cannot do

       Suggest alternatives

       Follow through and follow up

Telling the Library Story - Library Advocacy


Library Advocacy

This brochure provided by the Illinois Library Association (ILA) focuses on the need for increasingly more sophisticated legislative advocacy on behalf of libraries and the millions of people who depend on them.

Library Advocacy and Promotion Resources

A comprehensive list of Internet resources from The Internet Public Library relating to library advocacy and promotion.

Library Advocacy Handbook - Telling the Library Story

A resource from the American Library Association - Handling tough questions by the public and media, and a variety of other useful information for promoting library service effectively.

Strategic Communications in the Digital Age

This resource is provide by the Benton Foundation and provides an abundance of useful information. The emphasis is providing a best practices toolkit for achieving your organization's mission with tips for promoting collaboration and public relations.


Advocacy and the Library Trustee, by Deborah Miller. (Chicago: Illinois Library Trustee Assoc., 1986). Trustee Facts File is a federally funded project (Library Services and Construction Act Title I), authorized by the Illinois State Library and published by the Illinois Library Trustee Association, a section of the Illinois Library Association.

Getting Political: An Action Guide for Librarians and Library Supporters,
by Anne M. Turner. (Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 1555702821; February 1997).
In order to meet today's financial challenges, libraries must be ready, willing, and able to enter the arena of politics and compete for scarce public funding. Getting Political offers step-by-step guidance to librarians, library workers, trustees, and Friends organizations on evaluating the existing local political structure, galvanizing public support, and using aggressive political action to take control of--or at least influence--the process of government decision-making about libraries.

Library Advocacy: Influencing Decision Makers. (Chicago, IL: American Library Association Illinois Library Association, 1999). This brochure focuses on the need for increasingly more sophisticated legislative advocacy on behalf of libraries and the millions of people who depend on them. It is designed to help library advocates be effective in today's volatile, bottom-line oriented, and complex political environment. The techniques and messages described can be used at the local, state, and national levels

Library Public Relations, Promotions, and Communications: A How-To-Do-It Manual, by Lisa. Wolfe. (Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 155570266X; May 1997). This step-by-step guide shows the best techniques to help your library and reap the benefits of well-planned and executed campaigns. Chapters explain how to write, review, and update a communications plan; develop a corporate identity; make the most of media coverage; use volunteers; get a message out at programs and events; create effective newsletters, brochures, posters, and other print communications; and use the Internet, World Wide Web, online services, and local bulletin board services for publicity.

Vote Yes for Libraries: A Guide to Winning Ballot Measure Campaigns for Library Funding, by Anne M. Turner. (McFarland & Company; ISBN: 0786408553; May 2000). The initial chapters are on pre-campaign strategies and getting organized, financing the campaign, and recruiting and working with volunteers. The final chapters cover conducting the campaign and include advice on dealing with the opposition.

Winning Library Referenda Campaigns: A How-To-Do-It Manual, by Richard B. Hall. (Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 1555702244; September 1995). Written by an expert consultant, here is an indispensable resource for any library trying to win community support.


10 Ways To Advocate on to Use Your Library Card at Your Library

  1. Scare yourself with a mystery.
  2. Learn how to lower your taxes.
  3. Reserve a book.
  4. Trace a friend in an out-of-state telephone book.
  5. Prepare for your job interview.
  6. Pick up a book on cassette and listen to it in your car as you drive home.
  7. Read a large-type book without wearing your glasses.
  8. Check out the latest jazz CD by Chick Corea
  9. Spruce up the house with the latest books on interior design.
  10. Borrow Hawaiian music for your luau.

40 additional ideas can be found at:


1.      Scare yourself with a mystery.

2.     Learn how to lower your taxes.

3.     Reserve a book.

4.     Trace a friend in an out-of-state telephone book.

5.     Prepare for your job interview.

6.     Pick up a book on cassette and listen to it in your car as you drive home.

7.     Read a large-type book without wearing your glasses.

8.     Check out the latest jazz CD by Chick Corea

9.     Spruce up the house with the latest books on interior design.

10.  Borrow Hawaiian music for your luau.

40 additional ideas can be found at:


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