How to Handle Chaos at the Children’s Reference Desk

By Gina Martinez

Editor’s note: This article is part of LW’s series “No One Ever Told Me My Job Would Include…” which highlights the unexpected challenges and pleasures faced by new librarians.

Once I graduated from my Library and Information Science program, I became an extra help librarian fairly quickly and received training at the reference desk for a couple of days. Just like learning how to swim, I was thrown onto the children’s reference desk for my first day by myself. Panic set in on that sunny afternoon when I could barely keep up with all the kids coming from school pouring straight to my desk. They began multiplying like cute bunnies, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed because the children’s floor was starting to look like a classroom. Here I was, struggling to quiet everyone down, and it wasn’t working. I thought to myself, “What would Arnold do from Kindergarten Cop?” No, that seemed wrong. I realized, “They never told me about this in the SLIS program!!” 

 Soon, lines would be blurry, and I could not tell who was next in line. Nothing worked until I stated firmly, “I will help who is next.” I thought to let the kids fend for themselves and this actually worked like a charm. What they do not teach you in the SLIS program are all the little things, like how to command an audience of twenty screaming children. 

I learned a great deal about child psychology at that children’s reference desk. One fellow librarian gave me great advice: rather than tell a child what not to do (“Stop running!”), state what you DO want them to do (“Walk, please,” or “I need you to walk in the library”). Children, like adults, are more likely to follow a respectful instruction than an order.

Through these and other experiences, I have learned that it is just as important to take action to correct behavior, as it is how you choose to say it. This is a valuable lesson in dealing with patrons of all ages.

Gina Martinez is currently working part-time as a Clerk and an extra help Librarian at a public library. Read about her front-line adventures on her blog, That’s What Gina Said.