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‘Difficult customers’ disrupt library


Security boosted amid staff concerns about behaviour
Agitated customers a regular occurrence for staff


“Difficult customers” are disrupting Masterton Library, as people struggling with government agencies seek computer access and help.

Security and staff procedures have had to be updated to reflect staff concerns, Masterton District Council’s Community Well-being Committee was told this week by library manager Sandy Green.

Security cameras have been installed in all public areas of the library as the number of disruptions, particularly related to computer terminals, increases.

“The police have been very helpful,” she said.

Green said people living a hand-to-mouth existence spent their days between the foodbank, Work and Income, and a warm safe place. In many cases, this was the library.

“They bring their problems with them and will often have a different sense of social perception and a general feeling of being treated differently,” she said.

“The library is about information and that is what we deliver. However, it is also the place of last resort for many.”

Much of the difficult behaviour experienced by the librarians and the public is due to frustration.

People struggle to use the internet and have “a short fuse” when things go wrong, often blaming staff or other people in the library.

Many of the frustrations are because of government documents. Many agencies require forms to be completed online, and often sites are a challenge for people with limited digital knowledge.

Green said although staff tried to help, the amount of time they could spend with one person was limited.

Work and Income spokeswoman Lucy Lawlor said the agency was in the process of making changes to its customer areas throughout the country, with an emphases on “what works for people”.

The Masterton office is scheduled to have front-of-house changes and improved access for clients to information and services within the next three months.

As an example of challenges facing library staff, at the same time Green was addressing the councillors, a young man from Palmerston North who had suffered a head injury came into the library asking for help.

Work and Income was working with him to secure a job and they had arranged an accommodation allowance for him in Palmerston North. He had been told to go to Masterton to look for work and was given a couple of phone numbers so he could transfer his accommodation.

But finding he had a flat phone battery, he went to the Masterton Work and Income office to phone the accommodation providers.

They would not allow him to use their phone as his case officer was in Palmerston North.

He turned to the library for help, but became quite agitated as the library was busy and he was having trouble contacting anyone.

Green said variations of this story were almost a daily occurrence.

She has taken a pragmatic approach.

The library can have from 30 to 40 customers at any given time, and she has redesigned the space to break lines of vision and create more private working spaces, without compromising the layout and safety.

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