San Francisco State University
Library Home page Welcome to your university library

J. Paul Leonard Library

Find Research Help Services About
site navigation
display graphic

Library Administrative Manual

3.8 Problem Patron Guidelines

  1. Disturbances By Patrons: A Quick Guide To Police Codes
  2. Some General Hints For Dealing With Disturbed Partrons
  3. Guidelines For Library Staff Response To Disruptive Behavior
    1. Angry Verbal Abuse
    2. Destruction of Library Materials
    3. Personal Hygiene Complaints
    4. Refusal to Abide by Library Rules
    5. Disruptive Behavior
    6. Suspicious Lurking
    7. Obscene Phone Calls
    8. Sexual Offenses
    9. Threats to Personal Safety of Staff and Patrons
    10. Filing a Formal Complaint
  4. Appendix
    1. Unusual Occurrence Report Form
    2. Position Description: Library Crime Prevention Officer (referred to as Library Guard)

I. Disturbances By Patrons: A Quick Guide To Police Codes

Call 2222 (DPS).

Report location of emergency to:
   Staff Member at Loan Desk (1553)
   Library Office (2011)
   Librarian in Charge (2187)
   5150 Indecent Exposure
   Disturbance of Peace
   Bizarre or inappropriate behavior
   Violent: Dangerous behavior
Use plain language instead of numbers whenever possible.

II. Some General Hints For Dealing With Disturbed Partrons

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Repeat your request if necessary.
  3. Do not argue with outrageous statements.
  4. Be explicit.
  5. Stay in control of the situation; do not allow patron to manipulate you.
  6. Avoid humor or personal remarks.
  7. Alert other staff members when strange behavior occurs.
  8. Be considerate; listen to whole explanation even if you have heard it a thousand times before.
  9. Offer a choice of actions or alternatives if you can.
  10. Be a team player when confronting a disturbed patron; get help.
  11. Give support to another staff member who has had to confront a disturbed patron.
  12. Never try to restrain or detain a patron forcefully. Do not touch a disturbed patron.

III. Guidelines For Library Staff Response To Disruptive Behavior

Occasionally, persons in the Library manifest behavior that is annoying, inappropriate or threatening to Library users and staff. To aid Library units in coping with these incidents, guidelines are described below. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide for staff a consistent approach to handling disturbed or disturbing patrons, in order to enable others to make fullest use of Library resources and services, free of distraction and disturbance.

For other than routine library problems, always call the Department of Public Safety (DPS), not the Library Guard; the Guard will be notified by the DPS when necessary. The following are descriptions of types of disruptive behavior and the steps that should be taken when each type of behavior is encountered; use plain language instead of penal code numbers whenever possible.

  1. Angry Verbal Abuse (Examples: extremely abusive and threatening argument about a bill, insistence upon special library privileges, etc.)

    Normally calm and reasonable Library patrons may be aggravated into disruptive behavior by frustration: a bill they feel is undeserved, a book that is missing, etc. Your goal is to defuse the patron's anger.

    Step 1. Acknowledge existence of problem; explain procedures, describe steps that can be taken to solve the problem. Listen supportively, with empathy and understanding. Be aware that patron is venting inner frustration; anger is probably not directed at you, especially in the early stages.

    Step 2. Enlist aid of supervisor or another staff member. If you cannot resolve the complaint, refer problem to supervisor.

    Step 3. Personal verbal abuse should not be tolerated. If a patron's tirade goes beyond criticism of Library policy and focuses on you, particularly if this abuse is racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic in nature, excuse yourself and retreat from the confrontation immediately.

    Request assistance from supervisor. If alone in unit, call the DPS (2222) and report, We have a 415 patron (code number for disturbing the peace) if unable to describe the behavior on the telephone. Give dispatcher your name, name of your unit, and name of the building you are calling from.

  2. Destruction of Library Materials

    (Examples: writing in books, cutting out pages, damaging furniture, using library materials destructively, etc.)

    Step 1. If action seems to be accidental, unintentional, or fairly minor (such as writing in a book), tell the patron to stop. If patron is cooperative, and this is the first offense, you may want to handle the problem locally, i.e., have patron replace material, etc. Use your own judgement.

    Step 2. If action seems deliberate and seriously destructive, call the DPS (2222) and describe the situation. Secure damaged materials as evidence. If patron leaves the area, be prepared to give the officer a physical description, and to file a formal complaint. See below.

    Note: When an ongoing problem is suspected (example: you know someone is cutting pages out of books, but you haven't caught anyone in the act), report situation to the DPS (2222) so an investigation can be made.

  3. Personal Hygiene Complaints

    Explain to the complainant that the Library is a public institution and any member of the community may use the facilities.

  4. Refusal to Abide by Library Rules

    (Examples: refusal to show belongings at door, insistence upon smoking or eating in the Library etc.)

    Step 1. Advise patron of rule. Be prepared to explain reasoning behind the rule. Suggest alternatives to patron.

    Step 2. If behavior continues, politely inform patron that you intend to either ask him/her to leave or call the DPS.

    Step 3. If a patron refuses to cooperate, call the DPS (2222).

  5. Disruptive Behavior

    (Examples: loud talking, singing, approaching staff or other patrons and engaging them in unwanted and inappropriate interaction.)

    Step 1. Ask patron to be quiet. Inform patron that the behavior is disturbing and distracting to other Library users and must be stopped. Suggest alternatives (group study rooms, music practice rooms, etc.). Enlist aid of another staff member if necessary.

    Step 2. If behavior continues, ask patron to leave.

    Step 3. If patron does not cooperate, call the DPS (2222). Describe behavior and say We have a 415 in our unit.) Give your name, name of your unit.

  6. Suspicious Lurking

    (Examples: complaint or observation of person seeming to watch other patrons or their belongings, or attempts to enter a non-public area).

    Step 1. Ask if patron needs assistance.

    Step 2. Watch the person; notify other staff members.

    Step 3. If person's response is not appropriate or seems evasive, call the DPS (2222), even if patron has left the area. Say, We have a suspicious person. Give your name, the name of your unit, and building location. Add a description of the person if possible.

  7. Obscene Phone Calls

    Step 1. Hang up immediately.

    Step 2. Call the DPS (2222). Be prepared to describe what you can recall of the caller's voice, sex, probable age, what the caller said, and to describe background noises, if any.

  8. Sexual Offenses

    (Examples: indecent exposure, inappropriate sexual advances)

    Step 1. Call the DPS (2222) immediately. Describe the situation, or if not possible, say it's a 314 (314 is the code for a sexual offense). Give your name, name of your unit, and building location. Give as full a description of the offender as possible.

    Step 2. Encourage patron to whom the behavior was directed to stay until the officer arrives. Be supportive of the feelings of the victimized patron or staff member and move to non-public area for any discussion of the problem.

  9. Threats to Personal Safety of Staff and Patrons

    (Examples: disturbed patron is armed and/or violent)

    Step 1. Call DPS (2222). Say We have a violent 5150. If the person is armed, inform dispatcher. Give your name, name of your unit, and building location.

    Step 2. Have someone stay on the line with the dispatcher if possible. Without risking your own safety or inflaming the situation, try to get other staff and patrons and yourself out of the area.



  10. Filing a Formal Complaint

    Be prepared to take action when:

    Disturbance or damage is serious (examples: theft, sexual assault or exposure, battery, violent behavior, destruction of library materials, ongoing or repeated disturbance of the peace), and even if only you have witnessed the behavior. Officers cannot arrest someone for an action they have not witnessed unless the person who has observed the behavior is willing to file a formal complaint.

    In filing a formal complaint, you are making a charge that may lead to a person's arrest. It is possible that you may be asked to appear in court. A witness statement must be made in the presence of a police officer. The statement will then be filed with the District Attorney. The officer at the scene should advise you.

Based on U.C. Berkeley Library
Public Services Draft II, 7/29/82

Approved by: Library Cabinet
Date: 5/5/83 Revised: 6/16/93


Use this form to report incidents such as verbal abuse, destruction of library materials, disruptive and/or disturbed patrons, theft, obscene phone calls, sexual offenses, etc. that occur in your area.

SUBJECT: Library Office

1. Date:____________________________
2. Nature of occurrence: Time: ________________________________
3. Action taken:

4. If an officer was contacted, his/her name: ____________________________________

5. Name(s) of person(s) involved in occurrence, or witness(es) to occurrence:

6. If an accident, name person(s) injured:

7. If an accident, nature of injury:

Please send this report to the University Librarian, Library, 6th floor.

Approved by the LMT: 6/10/91

SF State Home
J. Paul Leonard Library, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132 - 415.338.1854 -
JPLL uses valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional, and valid CSS.