Working with the general public teaches one patience whether one wants it or not. It’s taken me years to realize this, but a lot of people just want someone to talk to. It’s hard to see this behind their obnoxiousness, or their craziness, or their neediness, but it’s there if you look hard enough. They’re lonely. You’re the person with whom they talked today. Maybe the only one.
For years I’ve had an elderly lady who seeks me out on a shift during which my library is very busy and very understaffed. She has radar for where I am, and she’ll wait for me (often showing irritation with other librarians who try to help her). Her reference questions – often involving people or places or things from her past – are often time-intensive, hard to complete at a public library, and frustrating in their obscurity. She knows this, too, and it doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t mind holding up the line. Those people can wait.
I used to grit my teeth when I saw her coming, but I learned a trick which has stood me in good stead with her: just be kind to her, make a good-faith attempt, and give her something, whether it’s a fact, or a book, or a piece of paper with a website address. If her give her your enthusiasm and a “take-away,” she’s reasonably content. Not surprisingly, it’s gotten easier to deal with her over the years, even though she is still a time vacuum. She hugs me (sometimes) and tells me about the surgeries she has had. I feel a fondness for her. She’s a good person with lots of interests, opinions, and wit. She lives alone in this area.
I am not necessarily getting better at research in this internet age, but dealing with the general public on a regular basis has taught me patience. I know very well that someday I could be that old woman, and I hope that others show me kindness.