Spotlight on Customer Behavior

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” – Lady Bird Johnson

In January, 2011, a Harris Interactive Poll found that “sixty-five percent of those polled said they had visited the library in past year.” Library trustees and staff know that the vast majority of those people value the library’s services and the staff who provide those services. Most library users follow the library’s policies and regulations and make use of the library’s resources to meet their individual needs.

However, both trustees and staff also acknowledge that there are times when a library user’s behavior creates a problem for a staff member or another library user. A library board approved policy on customer behavior will ensure that staff can address those situations equitably and legally. 

The resources below have been selected to help you draft your customer behavior policy and regulations. It is strongly recommended that you have an attorney review the final draft of your policy before it is adopted.  As you will see in the Section 1 below, customer behavior policies can have significant legal ramifications.

There are four sections in this topic. You can scroll down to see each section or you can click on the links below to go directly to a specific section. Understand the Challenges: Customer Behavior
Use the Template: Review and Revise Your Polices Relating to Customer Behavior
Get a Second Opinion: Ask a System Consultant to Review Your Draft

Section 1

Understand the Challenges: Customer Behavior

“Libraries are faced with problems of user behavior that must be addressed to ensure the effective delivery of service and full access to facilities. Library governing bodies should approach the regulation of user behavior within the framework of the ALA Code of Ethics, the Library Bill of Rights and the law, including local and state statutes, constitutional standards under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, due process and equal and equitable treatment under the law.” — American Library Association

The issues surrounding the policies that govern user behaviors in public libraries are complex and such policies can have significant legal implications. New York State has no laws or regulations that specifically address user behavior in libraries. However, library boards are charged with the responsibility of making “all by-laws and rules necessary and proper for the purposes of the institution…” [Ed. Law 226] That certainly includes customer behavior. This section includes links to resources selected to help you to develop legal and effective customer behavior policies.

General Resources

The American Library Association Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures Regarding User Behavior and Library Usage includes an overview of the issues to consider when crafting user behavior policies and “guidelines, based upon constitutional principles, to develop policies and procedures governing the use of library facilities.”.

Difficult Patron Behavior: Success Stories from the WebJunction Community: “In July 2005 WebJunction members wrote in to tell their stories about dealing with difficult patron behavior.” This site lists the highlights.

Legal Issues to Consider

Library Law: Constitutional and Unconstitutional Patron Appearance and Behavior Policies: A Review by James W. Fessler and E. Kenneth Friker, Klein: “Patron appearance and behavior policies must be carefully written to ensure that they do not unconstitutionally deprive patrons of their First Amendment right to some level of access to public libraries. To that end, this article reviews four Federal cases which addressed the constitutionality of patron appearance and behavior policies as applied to questionable patron appearance and behavior.”

Dealing with Problem Patrons: Patrons, Policies and the Police: This is a 1.5 hour webinar that explores the legal issues relating to customer service policies in detail.

Legal Issues in Georgia Public Libraries – Chapter 2: Use of Library Policies to Manage Problem Behavior by Patrons: “Legal issues arise in all aspects of daily life, and public libraries are no exception. The purpose of this work is to address law-related questions raised by public librarians in Georgia. The explanations and proposed solutions do not take the place of professional legal counsel. Rather, this work is a meant to raise awareness of the current state of the law as it applies to actual situations faced by librarians.” Although this was written for Georgia public library directors, the information is of equal value to New York trustees and directors.

The blog has several resources of interest to people developing policies and regulations relating to customer behavior:

Section 2

Use the Template: Review and Revise Your Policy on Customer Behavior

The centerpiece of each of the NYLTO policy topics is a Policy Development Template. These templates have been developed by June Garcia, a nationally recognized authority on public library policies and co-author of Creating for Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity, (American Library Association, 2003).

For more information on using the templates, go to Structure Your Discussions: Policy Development Templates section in the Library Policy ABCs: Everything You Need to Know about Developing Library Policies topic.

Customer Behavior Template: This template lists the questions that need to be addressed relating to the library’s policy and regulations on customer behavior. This is a brief sampling of the questions you and your fellow board members will consider:

  1. May a customer bring an animal, other than a service animal, into the library? 
  2. May a customer carry a concealed weapon in the library?
  3. What behaviors does the library consider unacceptable when they occur in the library or on library property?
  4. How are customers made aware of the expectations that the library has for their behavior?

To Generate Ideas: LTA’s New York State Policy Database: Acceptable Patron Behavior

Database policies are to provide information and to spark ideas, but should be used in conjunction with the templates.

Section 3

Get a Second Opinion: Ask a System Consultant to Review Your Draft When you have finished your draft policy statement and regulations, you may send it to your system representative for review and feedback, if you wish.

Brooklyn Public Library TBD 718-230-2199 Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Mary Jean Jakubowski 716-858-7180 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System Valle Blair 716-484-7135 x230 Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System Julie Wever Ewa Jankowska 518-563-5190 x 18 518-563-5190 x 11 Finger Lakes Library System Amanda Schiavulli 607-273-4074 Four County Library System Sherry Gorman 607-723-8236 x332 Mid-Hudson Library System Rebekkah Smith Aldrich 845-471-6060 Mid-York Library System Wanda Bruchis 315-735-8328 x 233 Mohawk Valley Library System Eric Trahan 518-355-2010 Monroe Library System Sally Snow 585-428-8051 Nassau Library System Elizabeth Olesh 516-292-8920 x237 New York Public Library Kevin Winkler 212-930-0720 Nioga Library System Lisa Erickson 716-434-6167 x33 North Country Library System Paulette Roes 315-782-5540 Onondaga County Public Library System Amanda Travis 315-435-1825 Pioneer Library System Lauren Moore 585-394-8260 Queens Borough Public Library Cecilia Nocella 718-990-0796 Ramapo Catskill Library System Robert Hubsher Grace Riario 845-243-3747 x 242 845-243-3747 x 233 Southern Adirondack Library System Sara Dallas Jennifer Ferriss 518-584-7300 518-584-7300 Southern Tier Library System Brian M. Hildreth Al Oliveras 607-962-3141 x 207 607-962-3141 x 212 Suffolk Cooperative Library System Diane Eidelman 631-286-1600 x1312 Upper Hudson Library System Tim Burke 518-437-9880 Westchester Library System Terry Kirchner 914-231-3223