Recently, I had an interaction with a patron that I’d to share. To me, it’s a great example of policies, procedures and liability – the pragmatic side of any business. I know many of you out there have had your differences and conflicts in the work place, but sticking to the rules is what’s going to save your skin. As such, I’m going to provide a few extra tips and tricks to surviving our world or legal, fiscal and personal responsibility through my example.
While reading this article, I have one major thing for you to keep in mind:
CONSULT YOUR POLICIES AND PROCEDURES HANDBOOK.
These are helpful hints I’ve learned along the way, they are NOT gospel. If your handbook says something different from me, the follow your handbook.
HANDBOOK GOOD, NO HANDBOOK BAD.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dive into the story.
I recently had a patron come in with a parrot on his shoulder. Before approaching him, I grabbed a tri-fold brochure of my library’s general code of conduct and highlighted the following passage:
“ANIMALS: Bringing animals into the library except those needed to assist patrons with special needs is not allowed.”
Next, I made sure a coworker was nearby to listen in. I then approached the man and began this conversation:
“Pardon me, sir…is your bird a pet?”
“Is your bird a pet, or a service or therapy animal?”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, son. He’s a parrot.”
“Yes, but does he assist you with a disability?”
“No. I said he’s a parrot.”
“Is he a pet then?”
“Yeah, what else would he be?”
“Well, our patron code of conduct states here that we can only allow animals that assist a patron with a special need in the library.”
“He’s a parrot, he ain’t gonna do nothing.”
“I’m sorry sir, but it’s a liability and hygiene issue.”
“You government people will always find a way to keep people down. I’ve been coming here for years, but you can be sure I won’t be back again.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience sir, but you can speak with my manager if you’d like.”
“Hmmph, like that’ll do any good.”
He then promptly left the library. On his way out, a mother with two children passed by who wanted to pet the bird. What if that bird had bitten one of the kids? Lawsuit city.
Now then, this story brings up several elements I’d like to address:
- Enforcing policy
- Staying up on policy trends
Do things in a team.
When enforcing any policy or procedure, having a partner with you is vital. Not only can they provide a second opinion in matters, but they can also corroborate your story on any incidents that may occur. Did a patron accuse you of something? “Their word vs yours” suddenly becomes “Their word vs yours with a witness who can back up your story”. It may just save you from getting fired.
Read the story again and you’ll notice that I had somebody else close by to monitor the interaction should anything have happened.
Plan your documents, document your plans.
What do I mean by that? The first part of this is having paperwork to back you up (plan your documents) and following up with documentation of the encounter (document your plans).
When I approached the man, I had my library’s code of conduct in hand and highlighted. I planned my documents, and was ready to show him in case he asks for such documents. After the encounter, I emailed my supervisor describing what happened in the event that he calls.
Hey, we’ve all felt conflicted. Somebody doesn’t have the 10 cents needed to print something food-stamp related, the little old lady needs five more minutes on the computer, things like this happen all the time. At some point, we all have to make moral judgment calls and live with ourselves. Have I ever given a food stamp recipient a free page printout or extending a little old lady’s time by five minutes? I won’t say either way, but I know I can sleep at night.
However, a violation like an animal is a much greater problem. Do I really think that this little tiny parrot the size of my palm is going to hurt anyone? Probably not, but our policy doesn’t allow non-service animals so we have to enforce it. I felt bad about making the man take his bird elsewhere, but that comes with the job. If I didn’t do it, one of my coworkers would have.
Staying up on policy trends.
“I don’t know, Justin…am I allowed to ask that? It seems very personal and could get us in trouble with HIPAA.”
Yes, you can. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) policies regarding service animals is very clear:
However, this statement released from the ADA is dated 2011 and their website is not very organized or easy to navigate. If anyone has anything more recent, please tell me!
If you’re worried about violating any health and privacy laws, many policies advise to simply ask “Is that a pet?” and leave them alone if they say no. Again, I cannot stress this part enough – CONSULT YOUR POLICIES AND PROCEDURES HANDBOOK.
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES HANDBOOK > ME.
Got any questions or comments for me? I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. Don’t forget you can also ask me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about this or any of my stuff!
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian
Hi Justin, I looked into ADA service animals extensively for a public library in Florida. A library is perfectly entitled to ask about the status of a service animal. BTW, at this point in time only dogs can be service animals under ADA regs. The ADA does not recognize therapy animals at all, though some non-federal jurisdictions do. It is a huge gray area, though in your case the State of Texas may have provisions that deal with it. How to handle purported therapy animals may just be an issue your library has to decide for itself. Of course, the parrot clearly was not a therapy animal, and asking if it was a pet was the correct approach.
Also, the guy with the parrot: next time, point out to the patron that you can’t discriminate. If you let one guy in with a parrot, you have to let in the next guy with the potbellied pig, then the guy with the Nigerian pygmy goat, and so on. Cheers!