I was fortunate enough to attend the Queensland Public Library Association two-day Professional Development Program last month.  The title of the session was “Where the Wild Things are: Practical strategies for dealing with the most challenging customers, growing resilience and staying safe.”

I was particularly excited to see the new Springfield Central Library – part of the Ipswich Library Service.

springfield red seating

The program was held on the second floor of the library where the Young Adult collection was kept along with Large Print and Magazines.  There were also lots of training/meeting rooms and quiet study areas.  The picture below shows the space we were in for the two days.


PD space.jpg

The first day was facilitated by Matthew Barry of Preftrain in Victoria.  We looked at dealing with aggressive people.  Different types of aggressive people were profiled.  Aggressive people identified as “random” are the people who might be dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse, in which case you need to focus on safety.  Your instinct/judgement will help you decide whether you need to create or find a physical barrier between them and you.  Asking them to move to a different area might give them and you time to gather your thoughts and re-frame the issue.  A colleague suggested that not getting in the way of or blocking the exit also helps them feel more comfortable.

We practised setting boundaries by making statements such as

“I feel….when…..What I would prefer….” and so on.

We were encouraged to do this as often as possible before we actually needed to do it in a real-life situation so it became more natural for us.

We analysed our own behavioural styles and learned to recognise those behavioural styles in others and adjust our communication to match.

We talked about the need to ensure that all staff know what to do in this kind of situation and know what records need to be kept.  We identified risks and talked about how we could do to prevent things happening or mitigate their occurrence e.g. an aggrieved customer who didn’t receive notices for overdue books.  This could be avoided by keeping accurate records.

The importance of de-briefing staff on difficult customer interactions was also stressed.

After lunch we looked at the characteristics of effective teams:

  • shared team goals
  • defined roles
  • trust
  • commitment
  • mutual respect
  • communication

Dysfunctional Team characteristics were identified as:

  • inattention to results
  • avoidance of accountability
  • lack of commitment
  • fear of conflict
  • absence of trust

We thought about how staff demonstrated commitment e.g. sacrificing their own time to help others.  We talked about the importance of feedback and giving your team the data so that they knew whether they were reaching their goals.

In the afternoon we were treated to a tour of the new library.  It was opened in August and has been embraced wholeheartedly by the local community.  We were interested to see the much-talked-about “Marketplace” pictured below. This is a different model of purchasing or leasing books and we were interested to hear how it worked.  The displays are dressed by a stylist regularly and staff are keen to make their “Staff Picks” shelves appealing and well stocked.


I was delighted to see a more visual approach to nonfiction wayfinding and signage on bay ends.

I loved the wall mounted tablets to search catalogues with the ability to sign up to the library there and then.

There were plenty of quiet study spots and meeting/training spaces.



Day Two was about building workplace resilience.  The keynote speaker in the morning was Andrew May – a partner in KPMG’s Performance Clinic.  (You can see him in action here) This was a really interesting session.  It was followed by a fantastic Panel Q & A featuring staff from Brisbane and Ipswich City Council Libraries talking about policy and governance around staff wellness, resilience and handling difficult customers.

In the afternoon we looked at indicators of lack of resilience in the workplace e.g.

  • lack of prioritising and planning
  • lower motivation levels
  • failure to communicate
  • increased sick leave

We identified factors that supported resilience i.e.

  • goals/plans
  • internal locus of control (how much power do you believe you have)
  • supportive relationships
  • social network
  • problem-solving skills
  • communication skills
  • a positive view of self
  • healthy life habits
  • management of feelings/impulses

We talked about how to build personal resilience by reframing problems, responding rather than reacting and re-focusing on the issue.

Books mentioned in the presentations were:

Martin Seligman “Learned Optimism”

Daniel Pink “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”

All in all much to ponder and act upon.

green chairs springfield

My very grateful thanks to our hosts Ipswich Library Service and of course QPLA, and my employer, City of Gold Coast Library Service for sponsoring my attendance.

Update – A new book on resilience you may be interested in reading is Leigh Sales’ Any Ordinary Day.  I’ve put it on hold. You can listen to a podcast about the book here.