my coworker’s bad customer service is irritating me … and she’s friends with my mom

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I work in a very small public library. One of my coworkers is an older woman who has been friends with my mom for decades, and she and I are also on friendly terms. I’ve helped her out before — I did some grocery runs for her early in the pandemic, I’ve given her rides to and from the train station, etc. Sometimes she gets into topics I’m not really prepared to talk about while I’m working (like what my brothers and I are planning for my mom’s 70th birthday in five months, or a time where she mentioned she’d noticed I took an inefficient route to the grocery store after work and wanted to advise me on how to shave 30 seconds off my trip.) I find her a little stressful socially, but at work we really do pretty well.

Or we did until a long-term staff member moved away and this friend started filling in on the Saturday shifts. Now it’s her and me manning the front desks and the phones, as well as handling computer questions, checking out books for browsers, and prepping curbside/hallway pickups. To be honest, she’s not great at customer service, and it really, really annoys me.

Some of it is just classic body language and “How can I help” vs “What do you want” tone issues. She always seems annoyed that a patron asked a question she can’t answer. It feels like she treats every patron interaction and minor computer trouble like a high-stakes issue, and she clearly comes across as frustrated, stressed out, and irritated. She’s also very quick to pass patron questions along to me if she can’t answer them and defers to me so often when it’s just the two of us that patrons have assumed that I’m her manager and complained about her attitude!

If I were her manager, maybe it would be easier to address these problems. But with her age, her friendship with my mom, her seniority (in terms of years worked here) over me, and my knowledge that there’s personal stuff going on in her life, it’s difficult for me to bring up suggestions or advice.

It’s much easier for me to just do something right the first time than get called in every time she feels like she’s making a mistake, but I know that she picks up on my annoyance because she asks me stuff like “Do my questions make you crazy?” Thing is, it’s not the questions themselves that get on my nerves, it’s how she asks them (and how she treats patrons).

Is there a polite way to offer her advice on this sort of nebulous interpersonal thing that she’s never asked for help with?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. DarthVelma*

    If patrons have complained to you about her attitude, you need to take that to her actual supervisor if you haven’t already.

    1. KHB*

      I agree. The patrons are raising these complaints with you because they think you’re her manager – which means they intend for their complaints to reach her actual manager. So you can kick this part of the problem upstairs with a clear conscience.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      This was my feeling. If you do not have supervisory responsibilities for her, the best thing would be to share that feedback with the manager.

      From the way you describe your personal dynamic, it sound like she sees you in a “child” role; you are someone who helps her out and she gives you feedback on things she thinks you are doing wrong (like driving a different way than she wants). If this is the case, she isn’t likely to take the feedback from you, even if you are polite.

      1. Knope Knope Knope*

        Also direct patrons to the actual manager if she is on-site. “Thanks for voicing your concerns. It sounds like the person you’re looking for is our manager. Let me get her for you.”

        1. ella*

          It sounds like the bulk of issues is happening on Saturdays, so I’m guessing the manager isn’t in the building. But OP could give the patrons her business card, or a comment card.

          1. EmbracesTrees*

            I think even better might be to have them leave a note for the manager, since 98%* of people won’t actually bother to do anything after the moment has passed.

            *not a real statistic =) butttt pretty accurate from my experience

          2. Holy Carp*

            Yes, if there’s a formal way to capture those complaints, do it. The manager will want to know.

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I wonder if there is a way to capture both good and bad – have comment and compliment cards – so that the manager gets both positives and negatives.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘From the way you describe your personal dynamic, it sound like she sees you in a “child” role…’

        I thought the same thing. My older SIL regularly schools me in things I not only know, but am certified to do. She doesn’t take it well when I somehow manage to do things without her direction.

        OP, given the personal dynamic between you two, I agree with everyone suggesting you share patron feedback with your manager. There’s no upside for you to deliver feedback to her directly.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I was coming here to say this.

      I get that this feels more complicated because she’s your mom’s friend. You don’t want to ruin that relationship for your mom, and a lot of us were trained in our upbringing to always be respectful of people in our parents’ generation, and that can be a hard pattern to break out of. But the bottom line in library work is that we’re here for the customers. Literally, the reason we exist is to provide our community with the information they need to live their lives, and if your coworker can’t do that, her manager needs to know about it.

      When you talk to her supervisor, tell her that you’ve received complaints from customers about the way your coworker treats them and that you aren’t comfortable addressing these things with your coworker yourself because of her connection with your family. As a person with experience managing a library, if someone came to me and told me those things, I’d address it with the employee as “I’ve received some worrying complaints from customers” and not “your coworker told me customers are complaining about you.” I hope that your manager would be willing to address it in the same way.

      1. RagingADHD*

        As far as the friendship with mom goes, it’s fair to give mom a heads-up that this is happening and you’re directing the customers to management. The co-worker may be upset about it and bring it up, but you are trying to do the right thing and, most importantly, get yourself out of the middle of this!

        That can even be the way you discuss it with mom, and/or the coworker if she addresses it with you directly: “I shouldn’t be in the middle of this, so I’m staying out of it.”

        1. Carol*

          I would disagree with this. This is a personnel issue and the employee has the right to not have it discussed with her friends. I don’t think it is fair to the employee. I know that, as a library director, I would not be happy with an employee sharing information about a co-worker’s job performance with anyone but me.
          Just tell the director and let her deal with it.

        2. Goody*

          I disagree with giving Mom a heads- up for one reason – Mom is not directly involved in this situation. Talking to her about it, especially given her friendship with your coworker, feels to me like gossip.

        3. bream*

          Noooo, definitely do not give your mom a heads up. First, it increases the likelihood of your coworker finding out it was you who pushed these issues up the line. Second, it’s very unprofessional to discuss her work issues with a mutual friend/family member.

        4. else*

          No, they can’t say anything about this to their mother – that would just be nasty gossip. Their work relationship with this person is separate from their mother’s friendship with her. It’s not unlikely that their mother WILL hear about it and maybe try to intercede, but that would be inappropriate too. Your second point is better – “This is a work situation, so not something I can discuss.”

          1. JustSomebodyElse*

            I don’t think the LW is obligated to give her mother a heads up. I also don’t think it would be a good idea to do so. But I similarly don’t think it’s anything she specifically needs to avoid. She isn’t this woman’s manager, so it’s not a personnel issue. We get to vent to family about annoying things at work

    4. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      Yes, this. Do you share a common manager? And what is managerial culture like? Also, what would happen if you took her question at face value? When she says “Do my questions drive you crazy?” instead of reassuring her that, no, Beelzebub, they do not, you put it back on her. “Beelzebub, why would you ask me that?” Or, “Beelzebub, while I wouldn’t say they’re driving me crazy, I was hoping that you’d be able to answer patron’s questions independently so I can take care of XYZ.”

      Also, if she goes to your mom, would your mom put it back on her or would she go to you with it? If the latter, then you might need to give your mom a gentle heads up that this isn’t personal, it’s work related, please do not discuss further.

      But also yeah, if she’s being shitty towards customers, her manager needs to know. Because libraries are amazing resources and I’d hate for your patrons to be driven away by a bad experience.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I agree with giving your mom a heads-up if you think this will spill over into the personal relationships. Something like “You know I love Friend and I’m always happy to help her out, but I really want to keep the personal part of our relationship separate from the professional part. We might have some disagreements at work from time to time, but I never want you to feel like that’s something you need to solve. If either of us starts to bring that up, would you remind us that you’re part of our personal lives, not our work lives?”

      2. Betteauroan*

        I always feel intimidated to ask questions of librarians because I hate to bug them when they look busy. I would be afraid to go back again if one of them was nasty to me.

        1. Properlike*

          I know TONS of librarians, and I am here to assure you that so many of them love getting questions and actually helping people. That’s the ones working in customer-facing public-librarian roles. The people they are bothered by are the ones who are self-absorbed, oblivious, or complaining for no good reasons.

          Don’t be intimidated, Betteauroan!

          1. Jen*

            It is sooo important that librarians be open to questions – so many people who rely on libraries are poor or young or inexperienced in research. For every person who complained to you, there’s probably five folks who just got embarrassed and gave up and went home. I say this as a person whose local librarians were the public-facing people my nervous child was MOST comfortable with. It’s an essential skill. You should feel no more guilty about kicking this to you manager then you would about reporting an accountant who couldn’t do arithmetic reliably.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          I basically grew up in libraries (my mom is a librarian)… almost all of them LOVE answering questions. For many librarians, that’s the favorite part of their job.

          Honestly, this lady is acting as strangely as a janitor who gets mad about mopping or a mechanic who resents doing oil changes. It’s a basic part of the job that she should have been expecting and prepared for before she even considered a career in libraries.

        3. OrigCassandra*

          Hi! I’m a librarian and I teach people to be librarians (among other jobs I train for).

          Your feelings here are so common that they’re part of an often-studied phenomenon called “library anxiety.” We study it because we want to reduce it! We want people to feel comfortable in libraries and comfortable interacting with librarians.

          If it helps, please know that libraries typically count reference interactions (that is, questions patrons ask at the reference and circ desks), and the more substantive ones we count, the better we look to our funders and the happier we are. (“Substantive” here is a very low bar — pretty much anything that isn’t “what are your hours?” or “where’s the restroom?”)

          I do agree with the evolving consensus here that Mom’s Friend needs to have her manager told about this, because the way MF is discouraging and upsetting patrons is a Very Bad Thing Indeed, for the entire library.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          If it makes you feel better, when customers come to me and say they hate to interrupt me if I’m busy, I’m almost never doing anything that’s not interruptable. Usually, I’m reading book reviews or blogs (like right now), or doing prep work for library programs that I can pick up and put down really easily (set down the scissors and finish cutting those circles after I help this customer).

          Most of the library staff I know choose the tasks they’re going to do at the information desk with the full knowledge that they’re going to be interrupted while they do those tasks. You’re not imposing on us at all, we expected and planned for this eventuality.

        5. SweetFancyPancakes*

          I used to put up a sign on the back (patron-facing side) of my computer that said “Please interrupt me- I’m here to help you”. Honestly, that is our job! The work we are doing at the desk is most likely just stuff we are doing to keep busy between patron interactions; the non-interruptible work goes on in the back room.

        6. Librarian here...*

          As a reference librarian this makes me sad. Questions are what it is about and the hunt is the thing that gets us out of bed. Trust me, I would much rather be answering your question that whatever paperwork thingie I am doing.

          I was once asked what was the most important skill that someone could have to work in a public-facing role in a library and I said eye contact. Sometimes I will see someone come into our library hesitantly, and I will do the dog head tilt to them. Usually that will get them to ask their question… or laugh.

          Once I was at the reference desk and there was an assignment due. A friend was hanging out at the reference desk and remarked that we didn’t snap after hearing basically the same question for the tenth time. My reply is that the patron had only heard it once.

          The test of a true reference librarian is whether upon hearing a question, you begin researching it, even if it is our social lives. It is an uncontrollable urge to get to the answer. If a person doesn’t have their blood rise upon hearing a question, they should not be in that role.

        7. mcl*

          I have a library background and work in a role adjacent to many public librarians, and this is definitely a thing that people who are already hesitant to ask questions of a library worker would be much less likely to persevere or ask again in the future. There are all these movements toward signage like “Ask your questions here!” Or “I’m here to help” instead of “reference desk,” which is a term that means little to many people where as “help” means much more. Additionally, it’s important for a reference staff member to have open and available body language, greet people with a smile, etc – even if you’re busy typing something it’s one thing to glance up at someone approaching and acknowledge them vs just hunching over your computer looking really deep in thought. Reference folks are often wearing multiple hats, especially in a small library, but some customer service training would probably be helpful!

        8. LocalLibrarian Here to Help!*

          Please ask your local librarian your questions! They are here (literally) to help you! As a public library director of a very small public — it is my hope that everyone feels comfortable about asking a question. Yes, we are often multitasking but you the people in our communities are the Number One reason we exist! Give your local librarians a try!

          Now, if they are rude, that is one thing…no one on my staff that is rude would work here ever again!

        9. Jean Pargetter Hardcastle*

          Librarian currently reading this at the reference desk! I know I look busy right now, but I’m really not. I would be very happy if someone came up right now with a question, because I can always read this later. Please ask us questions. :)

        10. else*

          The vast majority of librarians are super delighted to help you! Most of us love answering genuine questions, especially the ones we have to research. The ones who don’t should not be in a public facing position, and it sounds like this person falls into that category.

        11. Sandan Librarian*

          Just chiming in, as the child of a librarian who grew up to be a librarian. Nearly every librarian I know loves when people ask them questions*. When I teach library orientations at the university, I always tell our students that they are never bothering us, we love to answer questions, and we are here to support them. Reference questions (from “What were the names of Santa’s reindeer?” and “What’s the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque?” to “What is the weight of Mount Etna (without people)?” and “How can I train my kitten to ride on my shoulder?”) are opportunities to learn new things! Questions about the facility or programming are a great metric for how well the library has done with signage and outreach and advertising!

          *This does not typically include being asked what they’re doing after hours, if they’re married, or whether they know they have such a pretty smile. Don’t be that person, please.

        12. AspiringLibrarian*

          They may look busy, but actually just be looking at something non-work related to pass the time until a patron such as yourself approaches with a question. At least that’s what I saw my coworkers behind the reference desk doing.

    5. Threeve*

      Is there any way to occasionally give patrons a direct line to her manager? Are they ever in the library when someone is raising a complaint, or are you allowed to make their email public?

    6. phira*

      Yep, that’s what I came here to say! If patrons are complaining to you, especially if they think you’re her manager, then you can and should pass it along to your actual supervisor. Otherwise, alas, this is not your problem.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      Seconded. Let your/her supervisor handle this one. Then you can clean your hands, and your conscience.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. It’s time to go to her/your (collective) supervisor and tell her there are complaints so she can figure out how to observe this on her own and act on it.

    9. No Name Today*

      Very much this. I’d be very bummed/annoyed/concerned that my complaint or comments were being vetted.
      You don’t have to tell her manager if you feel uncomfortable, but you can tell your patrons that you too are peers and direct them to the manager.
      You are keeping her warm by setting yourself on fire.

    10. PT*

      Can you further explain the situation to your manager? Like, “I have been working with Lucinda on Saturdays and I have some issues. However it is a very sensitive situation, because Lucinda is a close friend of my mother’s and I don’t want to cause a disagreement between them. Is this something you’d be able to handle sensitively and confidentially?” and see what your manager says.

      I think most managers in a community environment like a library should be prepared to handle situations like these, where there’s an outside-of-work relationship on top of an at-work relationship, because that’s how community settings work. For example, the supervisor could just say “patron complaints” when she speaks to the friend, and not mention LW at all. Or the supervisor could take the tip from LW and come in during the busiest hour on a Saturday and eavesdrop, so she can say “I saw this,” and take LW out of it entirely.

    11. HBJ*

      Yea, this. I actually had this sort of thing happen at a previous job. The interactions with a particular customer ended up being coworker on the phone, me on the phone, CW in person, me in person. At the end of when I helped the customer in person, they (politely) complained to me about my CW. I was right there and heard all the interactions, and I definitely agreed that CW’s customer service skills were lacking. I just said something like, “I’ll pass it on.” And then I did. I told our supervisor. I said I wasn’t looking to get anyone in trouble, but this customer complained, I’d tend to agree that the interactions weren’t great, and I needed to pass it on. They thanked me, and I never heard anything more about it. CW was not fired but she never had any really bad interactions that I witnessed after that, so I expect she got talked to about it.

    12. Essess*

      This was exactly what I came to say. Patrons are trying to report issues to her supervisor. Since they are being given to you as a representative of the library, your job is to pass them to the correct person. It’s not right for you to filter them or hide them simply because she’s friend with your mom.

      1. mcl*

        Yeah, especially since this seems to be a pattern, OP should fill in the supervisor. Your supervisor or manager can work on getting your coworker training or figure out another solution like having her do work that limits her patron interaction. This is not an acceptable standard of work for public service.

    13. Bagpuss*

      I agree with this – and while I think you should speak directly to your manager about it, and particularly about the fact that it is not an isolated incident but something which is happening on a regular basis, I would *also*, if possible, try to encourage the patrons to do so. Maybe something like “I’m not actually [name’s] manager, so I am not able to address this with her directly, but I understand your frustration, If you’d like to feed back to her manager you can do so on our website / by filling in one of our comment cards / by emailing [address] ”

      If complaints come directly from a patron then they may be taken more seriously but also she’s less likely to perceive it as being you ‘causing trouble’ for her.

    14. Engineer Woman*

      As with many others, I also came here to say the same. The patrons are thinking you are her supervisor and you need to bring these comments to her actual supervisor. Or at the very least, tell the patrons that you are not her supervisor, only a peer and tell them (the patrons) who to contact to provide feedback. I don’t like this latter suggestion, TBH. If I were a patron I would expect the employee to raise it their/her supervisor.

    15. Squirrel*

      Agreed. Complaints like that are for managers/supervisors. Since it sounds like the manager is not there on Saturdays, then a quick conversation should do it: “How would you like me to handle it when customers are complaining to me about coworkers attitude because they think I’m her supervisor? “

    16. Momma Bear*

      I agree. It may be awkward because OP knows her socially, but if patrons are routinely asking for something to be done, something needs to be done. Maybe this person needs a non-customer facing role. I also like the idea of directing the patrons to the actual manager or other complaint avenue. While we can all have some sympathy for someone who has legit concerns in their life, there’s a point at which they are allowing it to be a crutch/get out of jail free card and negatively impacting the rest of the company/org. She’s not able to do her job effectively and someone needs to help manage that. Someone who should not be you.

      The route thing made me go “ugh” because I had a manager like that. Why did it matter what route I took?

      I’d also dial way back on the personal stuff at work and any extra errands. “No, I’m not available.” Or “I don’t want to talk about my family/this is not up for discussion.”

    17. LW*

      I realized once I reread my letter here that of course this would be the 1st thing people suggest! Our Director (who is also our only manager) is absent from my letter because we’re so small that she is often the one to cover shifts when someone on the floor calls out. So I think she’s aware of my coworker’s vibes, but this is a good reminder that I shouldn’t just assume that.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        An awful lot of people shape up their behavior when they are directly under the boss’ eye. Let your boss know what is happening when your coworker *isn’t* under her eye.

        1. else*

          Yes, this! It’s very very possible that your coworker is both more conscientious under the director’s eye, and far less likely to be willing to interrupt her.

  2. LaFramboise (in academia)*

    As a Librarian of many years, I can tell you that this is a common issue and one that can cause more problems with patrons who will avoid her and complain to you. Is your director/branch manager a good manager? And would they be able to offer her some training? That’s what this issue is going to take to resolve. Either that, or patron complaints that are put in writing, or phone calls. This is 100% not your problem to solve, and you should bring it to your manager’s attention. Goid luck.

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      That was my first thought. This is a management problem and I think LW needs to bring it to their manager and let the manager address the situation (for example, coming in on Saturday to observe, etc)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – the complainants need to be passed to the manager – and if it can’t be done in the moment – is there a way to get them in writing to pass on to the manager? They need to know what is going on, and some of the issues my just be a training issue that can be fixed (but only if management knows they exist and need addressed).

    3. Mid*

      Yup. I was fortunate enough to live equidistant from two library branches. I went to one over the other simply because they had better people working there. The staff at one branch always was huffy and irritated at every patron’s existence, while the other branch was kind and helpful.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Yup, this sums up my experience as well. I use my local public library a TON and I’m willing to drive out of my way to a branch where I don’t feel like an inconvenience when I’m checking out books or if I have a question.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Likewise when a sub-par Children’s Librarian took over, we shifted storytimes and never went back. I still go to the other library whenever I can even though we moved. Bad service will cause people with options to leave. Good service will keep them.

        1. blerpblorp*

          The reason this is so common, in my librarian experience, is that customer service is just never the focus. In reviews, it’s always what projects did accomplish, what programs did you start, etc. and never like….how good are you at helping people. Neither in terms of one’s actual conduct and attitude or your ability to locate materials efficiently or solve technical problems. At times it’s seems like having a combative, bad attitude is seen as a good thing because otherwise I can’t figure out why some people in libraries keep moving up!

    4. LW*

      Our director is genuinely great! But, like a lot of small-town directors (I think?), she works incredibly long hours (although she’s always careful not to pressure staff to emulate that. We’re understaffed with no real budget for more, so she picks up a lot of slack that would likely fall under program director, collections manager, or other titles if we actually had someone in that role) so I’m always hesitant to take things to her unless I truly can’t solve them myself. Maybe I’m being too precious about it though and do need to bite the bullet and bring it up.

      I worry about adding more to her plate, but as I step back and look at the issue from the outside, that isn’t a very convincing reason not to address it.


      1. mcl*

        I work with tons of rural library directors and you’re right that they’re overstretched! However, it sounds like you are peers with your coworker so this isn’t really your place to give this kind of performance feedback. This is just a case of looping your director in. I know that your director really appreciates your problem-solving skills, though! Director needs to step in and do some damage control so your small library can maintain its rep as a great place to visit!

      2. Mid*

        If anything, you’re actually saving her work in the long run, because an unpleasant coworker, getting multiple complaints, will drive off patrons and staff alike over time. Bringing it up is something she needs to know, especially before it becomes a bigger issue.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        LW, I totally understand – in small environments lines can get blurred. But this is an issue that may impact the library as a whole. It needs to be put back on her plate as an issue to be solved.

      4. Again With Feeling*

        Totally get it, but ultimately it’s not your job to manage your boss’s workload for them or protect them from more work. If I were the manager, I’d probably be unhappy that one of my reports was, in effect, covering for another’s poor performance by not passing along patron feedback that was intended for me.

      5. Working Hypothesis*

        It’s kind of you to handle as much as you can on your own, LW. But the fact is that this thing is NOT one that you can handle on your own — you just don’t have the authority. It needs to be handled by either making her stop the behavior or taking her out of a customer-facing role (and if there is no appropriate non-customer-facing role available, then that means firing her). You can’t do any of those things. You can’t make her stop the behavior because you are not her boss and so she has no reason to listen to you. You can’t change her role because you don’t have hiring/firing/transferring authority for the job assignments at this library.

        So this situation really has to go into the box labeled “Stuff I Cannot Achieve Without Talking to the Boss.” Go talk to the boss! That’s what she’s there for… handling the stuff you genuinely can’t handle on your own because they require her specific level and type of authority.

  3. Jill*

    What resources are does she have to be able to answer the questions? Did she receive any training in this new role? If she’s teachable don’t let her pass patrons off to you and check out when she doesn’t know, involve her in actually answering the question and show her where you got the information. And showing her when patrons aren’t immediately answering questions could be helpful too, fake that you have questions or something.

    1. Corrvin (they/them)*

      Good points Jill! I’d add that customers get crankier than normal at staff who aren’t good at the job. So patrons may be starting off annoyed because Mom’s Friend is super slow, and then she’s less than VERY CORDIAL to them so they get grumpier. Increasing her skill at the job may make it better for her in several ways!

      1. No Name Today*

        This is the part that concerns me. Where OP brings up “she has personal issues going on so…” Every person in the library has personal issues. Many of those personal issues are “I need this information and I cannot find it.”
        They go to an expert who treats them like a burden.

        1. Jill*

          Right, she’s “frustrated, stressed out, and irritated,” whenever someone comes up to her because she knows she can’t help them, but no one has tried to figure out why she’s uninformed despite working there for a long time. I’d also be frustrated if all of a sudden I realized I didn’t know a lot about my job and it was getting pointed out to my coworkers or a friend’s daughter.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            I’ve been at my job for a long time, but I only know certain aspects of the entire workplace very well (y’know, the ones I actually DO at work) and there’s a lot I don’t know or deal with, so when I’m thrown to the wolves to answer any random questions, I’m In Trouble.

            I don’t know what this lady does the rest of the time, but suddenly being thrown onto public service shifts is a nightmare when you don’t know every single aspects of everything.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I don’t think it’s very likely that this job duty is so wildly different from what the coworker was doing before. In libraries, pretty much every job is a customer service job. The only people at my library who don’t work the information desk are the security guard and the custodian. It’s a general expectation in any library job that you are prepared to answer questions for customers, so I don’t think it’s likely that she wasn’t expected to do that before this shift change took place. It’s possible that she’s more overwhelmed now than she used to be, or that the traffic to the information desk is slower on weekdays and she didn’t feel so frazzled or stressed out about it before, but she was almost certainly answering customer questions prior to this change.

              1. Jill*

                I don’t know how she’d have been able to if she doesn’t know the answers now? I’m not going to assume what her role was before but OP listing a bunch of tasks after the change did make me think these were new since this a shift she just got.

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  I think it’s likely that the coworker has been behaving like this for some time now, but her shifts with OP had less overlap before.

                  Most of the time, a library on a Saturday is a skeleton crew. During the week you might spend 2-3 hours a day at the information desk, and on the weekend it might be more like 5-6. So it’s possible the coworker has had this issue for a while and it’s only now that OP is noticing how big a deal it is. I know I’ve had that kind of experience with coworkers in the past.

              2. LW*

                Yes, I recently took a full time position in addition to this coworker taking on more shifts in her part-time role, so we’re working together more often, and on Saturdays, we’re the only staff on the floor.

                We’re very very small (only 1 staff member beside our director has an actual MLIS degree, he and I are the only 2 full-timers, and we have 4 part-time staff members) so we all wear as many hats as we can/want. The work now, especially as we’ve entered the last stage of our reopening before Totally Normal, is basically the same as it was in 2019.

            2. megaboo*

              But then you say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but let’s find someone/do some reasearch for you.” You don’t just refer them to your colleague, but address the fact that you don’t know. You just don’t say “nope” and move on.

          2. Birdie*

            I thought this was odd, too, until I remembered the ex-coworker who was decades older than me and worked at that office for many years before I showed up…and within weeks she was asking me basic things she should’ve known or should’ve known how to find. It was not a matter of training; she was just a bad fit for the job. I think in my coworker’s case, part of the problem was that she was bad under pressure, and when she was asked a question she didn’t immediately have an answer for, she would panic and run for help instead of calmly figuring it out like everyone else.

            If the coworker has been at the library for years, I imagine she’s fully trained on all the customer service basics, but I agree that LW should definitely consider whether that’s the case or if more training/resources might help!

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I wondered up above if any of the problems were training issues that were fixable (if people knew she needed more/initial training).

      1. Jill*

        Yeah, at this point with the complaints it’s definitely something that could go to a manager but I’d still advocate for training her more than an complete attitude adjustment (assuming her attitude wasn’t an issue before or it would be mentioned). If she’s used to more staffed shifts she probably didn’t need to know as much on the fly before but she can’t really justify blowing off patrons if she knows the answers.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Right. If you’re the only warm body around to answer questions, it’s a problem. If OP knows more about what’s going on, of course she’s passing to OP.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, she sounds like me doing customer service because in my job, at least 50% of the public questions are ones I literally have no idea about answering. That’s pretty much my inner reaction to being asked things I don’t know and knowing I’m going to get in trouble for not knowing the answers, right there. Inside I’m screaming in fear and the last thing I want to do is “help you” and I’m not good at pretending that I can help you at what I really can’t help you with.

    4. ella*

      My guess (from working in libraries for a decade) is that she’s doing the same job she was before, only it’s on Saturdays rather than whatever weekday she was working before. She may be getting caught off guard by the *quantity* of questions, or maybe she’s less used to being interrupted than OP (if she was working mostly weekdays before, she’s probably used to a quieter library).

      Honestly, I sympathize with being annoyed by customer questions, because they are so often the same questions. But answering questions is her job. And she needs to learn to do it in a way that isn’t off-putting to patrons.

      1. megaboo*

        Typically Saturdays are the skeleton crew, so there might not be anyone to ask or go to. I agree that she needs training on customer service.

    5. LW*

      I don’t know what her initial training was like, since that was before I was hired, but I think she had originally been doing the same types of things she’s doing now. There are definitely things that are new/have changed since our partial shut down last year, but the overall job is not that different.

      I gave her a crash course on the things I knew were new to her, like the calendar we started using to schedule curbside pickups, but felt awkward going over things I worried she already knew about. In the time since I sent this letter to Allison (only a couple of weeks, but long enough) the specific questions about new procedures have been resolved. I did check that she’s confident with the new stuff, and some things are no longer an issue– for instance, the calendar matters much less since as of this week we’ve phased appointments out completely!– but being back on familiar ground doesn’t seem to have increased her confidence/improved her customer service skills.

  4. Points for Anonymity*

    This isn’t your problem. Pass the complaints on to a manager and let them deal with it. In the meantime, just try and put some mental space between you and the issue so it doesn’t bother you this much.

    1. JRR*

      It’s frustrating, but I agree this is the answer.

      Any attempt to “bring up suggestions or advice” would surely backfire, making you more involved with her, when it sounds like you’d prefer to be less involved.

    2. Campfire Raccoon*

      I agree. This may be your circus, but she’s not your monkey. Pass the complaints on and prepare for the inevitable emotional leakage when they’re addressed.

  5. Paige*

    The next time she asks you if her questions are driving you crazy, tell her exactly what you told us: it’s not that she’s asking questions, it’s how she’s asking them.

    She can’t fix it if she’s not aware she’s doing it.

    1. Lizzo*

      I’m going to push back and suggest that the better response to the “are my questions driving you crazy” inquiry is a question that puts the burden back on her (mom’s friend). Something like, “What do you mean?” Or “Why do you ask?” Or “What makes you think that?” For the reasons others have stated in other comment threads–including the suggestion that the friend sees LW primarily as “child of friend” and not as coworker–I don’t think the mom’s friend is going to respond kindly to any sort of criticism.

      If mom’s friend lacks the emotional maturity to manage her feelings in a situation where she is supposed to be providing good customer service, she probably doesn’t have the emotional maturity to accept the feedback from LW in the spirit in which it is intended.

      1. GrooveBat*

        I think LW could use a combination of techniques here. I like your suggestion to push it back on her and try to get her to articulate why she’s asking the question. But the mom’s friend is also giving LW an opening here, so maybe follow up that initial response with, “Well, I have noticed that customer inquiries seem to really stress you out and if I’m noticing it the customers probably are too.” And then see where that conversation goes.

        I agree it would be really difficult for LW to initiate a conversation about this because of the relationship, and because she’s not the friend’s supervisor. But the friend *is* inviting the discussion, so that could be an opening.

        1. Lizzo*

          I’m not sure that she is inviting it, though. My gut reaction to that question is that her goal is to seek reassurance that, “No, no, it’s fine. You’re fine.” and have her insecurities comforted in the moment–it’s an ego boost, not actually trying to address LW’s potential discomfort.

          I realize this may not be a terribly charitable interpretation of the situation, but I’ve experienced this many, many times–frequently with women, and frequently with older women–and when I’ve assumed they’re actually asking for feedback and act accordingly…well, it doesn’t go well.

          That said, I do like what you’ve suggested: “Well, I have noticed that customer inquiries seem to really stress you out and if I’m noticing it the customers probably are too.” Simple observation to start with, and then see where things go from there.

      2. At home with work*

        I disagree because there’s a perceived power difference there. A coworker is an equal whereas a customer often isn’t going to treat a person like a person.

    2. ella*

      Also, there’s an assumption underneath her asking about *her* questions–that being asked questions is inherently annoying. There is a straight line between “Are my questions driving you crazy?” and “All these patron questions are driving me crazy.” She probably thinks that OP is just as annoyed by patron questions as she is, but that OP is better at hiding it.

  6. Vox Experientia*

    oof that’s a toughie. you dont have standing to manage, and you’ve got the mom’s friend factor. both tough to negotiate. i would probably just try to passively bring it to her attention how she’s being perceived using faux empathy. “betty lou are you okay? you seemed very frustrated and short with that customer”… “betty do you need a break? you were very short in that call, is something wrong?” “that lady seemed to really frustrate you, when i feel myself getting upset like that i usually try to kill them with kindness, it gets them out the door quicker….” but for the times when she’s direct and asks if she’s frustrating you – i’d try to just answer honestly but coach it in an apology “i’m sorry, did i seem upset when i answered you – sometimes when i’m having a bad day being asked the something i’ve previously answered will kind of set me off – i shouldn’t take that out on you, i am very very sorry”. just make her consciously aware of what she’s doing wrong, it makes it slightly more likely she’ll recognize her behavior is inappropriate and possibly change it. i wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s worth trying.

    1. Cordelia*

      hmm, I don’t know – I don’t think I would be apologetic and make out like the problem was in me. If she’s asking directly “do my questions make you crazy”, that’s your chance to be open and honest in your answer, while remaining gentle and kind too – “well, its just that you sometimes ask questions I’ve already answered – I know some of this stuff is new to you, so perhaps if you … (e.g. take notes, observe when I’m doing it, ask manager for some training – whatever you think will help)”
      if you say “no, no, its fine”, you’re not actually being particularly kind, because she can obviously sense your frustration, and you’re stopping her finding ways to improve.
      Pass it up to your manager, maybe she needs training, but maybe she’s not right for the job, and that’s not your problem to fix, and isn’t altered by her relationship with your mom

      1. Alianora*

        Agreed, I think your suggested wording is good. The original suggestions are passive-aggressive imo.

    2. JessB*

      I think this is great advice to acknowledge the problem with the co-worker and have a conversation with them about the issues; and gives a good starting point to escalate to a manager if necessary.

  7. Excel Jedi*

    This is absolutely not your issue to fix.

    It’s an issue, and if you have a good manager who can be discreet about it, it would be worth bringing it up once. But overall, it is above your pay grade to coach her on her attitude, especially when she’s also a family friend.

  8. Canonical23*

    Tell your manager ASAP. As someone who used to be a library manager if this was happening when I wasn’t around to notice it, I’d want to immediately know about it. A good manager will also work with you so that it isn’t obvious that you were the one who “told.”

    In terms of dealing with it in the moment, I’ve had coworkers who do the “do my questions irritate you?” bit before and I always approach it as them asking (in a horribly unorganized way) “what should I do next time that happens?” So when she says that about some computer problem, respond like “next time, you should do [X]. It took me a bit to learn that, but it really helps/makes the interaction easier/etc.”

  9. I edit everything*

    I agree with others who have said that patron complaints should be passed on to her/your supervisor. But first, you might try something like this the next time she says something along the lines of “Do my questions bother you?”
    “I’m always happy to help, but I have noticed that sometimes your tone suggests you’re impatient or aggravated. Is there something I or the patrons are doing that’s upsetting you?”

    I wonder–she’s worked there for a while, right? So she should know the answers to most questions and how to do things. Could it be that she’s forgetting? You said she’s older. So maybe she knows she ought to know the answers, but she doesn’t any more, and that’s bothering her and making her abrasive. It can be hard, realizing you’re losing an important part of you. I don’t know that there’s anything you can do about it, other than recognize that it’s a common reaction to memory loss and try to be patient, though.

    Maybe suggest to her supervisor that she come in and work a shift with your coworker, to observe. “I’m concerned about Ethel. She doesn’t seem to be able to help our patrons the way they need, and some have made complaints about her rudeness. I think it would be a good idea for you to see what’s happening first hand.”

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I think if you can approach this from a place of “I’m concerned, can I help” it may go over better.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Or just simply, “are you upset about something?” and explain that it came across that way. Each time.

    3. theletter*

      Oh no! it very well could be memory loss – anger and frustration are often a result when asked a challenging question while dealing with memory concerns.

      OP should absolutely push this up to her manager, so that accommodations can be made – Perhaps Ethel is just more of morning person and feels pretty drained by Saturday night.

  10. Jaded Librarian*

    Especially since it’s gotten to the point that patrons are complaining, you definitely need to bring it up. Is it possible for you to talk to her supervisor without your coworker knowing if came from you? Or since, you have a personal relationship with her, is there another coworker who could speak to her supervisor instead? I’m sure you are not the only person having this experience working with her.

  11. els*

    Agree with all of the above, and as a library-person myself (who has worked with someone exactly like your mom’s friend a number of times), all you can do is be the better professional, the anti-Your-Mom’s-Friend; your customers will probably start coming to you in the first place and avoiding her altogether. I have a sad feeling that this is a “your coworker sucks and isn’t going to change” situation, but that’s for her supervisor to try to fix.

  12. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I’m a bit curious on this one myself. I find that once I lose patience for someone it’s just gone. It’s very hard to rebuild the tolerance in your head.

    1. Judgmental Julie*

      I’ve struggled with that at work, too. I can get stuck thinking a lot of critical thoughts when I lose patience for someone (especially if I perceive them as incompetent and not doing anything to try to improve), and it’s not helpful to me or anyone else. When I’m out of mental tolerance for a person, I have found it helpful to actively find things to mentally praise them for – even really small things. Over time, it can help restore a tolerable balance for me.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        My approach to this is to ask myself whether I would be equally annoyed/upset/whatever if someone else were doing the thing that is bothering me. If yes, then the problem is with the thing and needs to be addressed (politely); if not, then the problem is with me and I need to take a step back until I’ve calmed down.

      2. Jack Straw*

        This is the equivalent of me, as a teacher, reminding myself when I’ve simply HAD. IT. with a student–that someone, somewhere loves this child–and it’s up to me to figure out why. It genuinely helps reframe my brain and reset the frustration.

    2. Jean (just Jean)*

      Judgemental Julie has given us the cure for when we reach BEC* with someone. Great advice! Now we need a snappy summary or acronym. My first idea is GGA for Give Grace Anyway. Other suggestions welcome.

      *BEC = Bitch Eating Crackers stage. It means that thanks to your shared history with some person, you’re so exasperated/infuriated that in your opinion this person can’t do anything correctly. “Look at that bitch eating crackers like she owns the world” is how I first saw this expressed on this site (?) long, long ago.

  13. PolarVortex*

    I think all the comments about bumping up to your manager are good.

    But also depending on your mom, you might want to have a convo with her about how she feels about you working with her friend (and how you feel about it) and how you are worried about affecting friendships/work relationships if something goes sideways somewhere. (Could be a falling out between coworker and your mom as easily as it is between you and coworker.) ((And potentially even have a secondary convo with your coworker about it.))

    Also, I’d either pull back a little on the outside of work favors or I’d push back a bit when she’s rude. You could always use the excuse of “I talked to mom and we agreed it’s not right to put you in a spot between us, so I want to just be coworkers with you.”

    If she’s criticizing your ways to the grocery store, I’d feel free to say something about it. It could be kind like “Hey Coworker, I’m always happy to help you out when you need it because I care about you but I really feel unappreciated/hurt/sad/etc when you criticize how I’m doing these favors.” or blunt like “Interesting comment, but my Mom taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

    Mom may also have tricks for dealing with her too and depending maybe would be willing to back you up? Can’t tell from your post how that relationship is, it seems like you’re worried about upsetting it but I can’t tell if that means you’d get problems from your mother or if you just want your mom to have her friends happily.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think this is a good idea for some of the more personal interactions that are going on. Plus, if it does become a case of coworker goes looking for a sympathetic ear from mom, well she knows your side (or that there are things going on, and your working to address it in a professional manner).

    2. Mockingjay*

      I’d stop the outside work favors, period. I think you need a firmer boundary. For you, she’s only a coworker. Keep to a strict professional relationship. She’s your Mom’s friend, not yours. Keeping the two relationships separate should help clarify your dealings with her. If another coworker had this same issue, you wouldn’t hesitate to go to management.

      If Coworker complains to Mom and Mom then asks you, “sorry Mom, I can’t discuss work issues. I know she’s your friend, but she’s my coworker and I have to be professional about it.” Repeat.

  14. Cats*

    You’re not her manager so report her attitude to management. It is neither here nor there that she is friends with your mom and if she wants to run and tattle to your mom it says all you need to know about her. If you challenge her she could just turn around and say ‘you’re not my manager’.

  15. 30 Years in the Biz*

    I would pass this issue on to the person supervising her. Mention examples of the behavior and that customer service is being affected. Patrons have complained. Her behavior shows she’s stressing out over situations that usually wouldn’t bother others in the same situation. Is the “personal stuff going on in her life” creating the stress at work? Does she feel inadequate in her job and she’s just checking out and ready to retire? Is she trying to show her superiority or competence in talking down to library patrons? Probably not the questions for you or her supervisor to investigative though. The bottom line is all about professionalism. She’s not being professional at work, and she has to be told by a superior that it’s not acceptable.

  16. Michelle Smith*

    Does she have a manager? If so, document when people complain to you about her and pass the information along to that manager.

    “Hi Susan,

    Three patrons approached me this week to make complaints about Rebecca and the service she provided. I informed them that I am not her manager, but that I would pass the complaints along to you. Their contact information is as follows:

    Patron 1 Name: email
    Patron 2 Name: phone, email
    Patron 3 Name: email


    I would not editorialize at all, adding my opinion on Rebecca’s customer service skills. Stick to the facts and if you are specifically asked by the manager at some point to give an opinion, keep all emotion and hyperbole out of it.

  17. Mental Lentil*

    LW, you’ve answered your own question:

    she picks up on my annoyance because she asks me stuff like “Do my questions make you crazy?” Thing is, it’s not the questions themselves that get on my nerves, it’s how she asks them (and how she treats patrons)

    She’s asking you for feedback. Give it to her.

    I have worked with people like this. When they ask for feedback, I will usually use the approach of “What I do is…” or “What I have found works best is…” or “Oh, the computer’s done that to me before, too, and what I’ve learned is…”

    In this way, you’re not making it about her attitude, but about her actions.

    On the other hand, I get her annoyance about not being able to ask question! We expect a lot of librarians, and they often have vast banks of knowledge, but these days there is just so much more to know. But if you don’t feel comfortable addressing her tone with patrons directly with her, it is something you definitely need to address this with someone in a position of authority. As Alison usually suggests, talk about the patterns you see in her behavior and the patterns that patrons exhibit.

    1. Kaiko*

      Yes, this. Because you can just say, “Actually, it’s not so much the questions as the way we’re interacting. You seem annoyed with me/the people asking you questions. What’s going on?” and see what she says. But also, yeah, pass this up the chain so someone can have a more formal conversation with her about client-facing interactions.

      1. ophelia*

        And–given OP’s need to maintain a personal relationship as well–she could even soften this a bit by saying something along the lines of, “and you know I’ve always known you to be helpful and kind” or whatever as further framing for “hey, what’s happening here?” But overall while I think you can maybe do some of this in the moment, there is a bigger issue that her supervisor needs to address.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I like this approach a lot. It sounds like at least some of the coworker’s behavior comes from a place of not knowing how to answer customer questions and feeling inadequate. Maybe what she needs to hear is that it’s okay not to know right away. My usual response when a customer asks me something I don’t know is “That’s a really good question! I want to know the answer to that too. Let’s look it up.” OP, can you try using lines like that when your coworker refers customers to you? Let her hear you say “I’m not sure, let’s find out” and see if she internalizes the idea that it’s okay for a library worker to learn the information as they’re getting it for the customer.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        The first ever interview I had for a library position was in a TINY town facility. The most important question on the interview was “what would you say if someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to?”

        The right answer was some variation on “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll help you find one.”

        The board later told me after my hiring that most of the people coming in and applying for the position had gotten that question wrong, because working in the library was seen as a sinecure position in the town. Many of the older townspeople who were applying had deeply ingrained life habits of never admitting the limits of their own knowledge.

        One of the best things you can do for someone like that is to get them to practice their scripts for when they don’t know the answer, so they get used to it, and past the embarrassment of having to admit their knowledge has limits.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    I’d talk to her first before going to a manager. Agree it’s not your problem, but the reality is that if it’s a good friend of your mom’s it seems a little strange not to address it with her first.

  19. Snailing*

    I think you can lean on the fact that this is a new duty to her, or at least it’s newly visible to you. You can frame it as, “We typically say/do it this way in this department” and just use a really matter-of-fact but polite tone, which helps a ton in preventing people from getting defensive and doubling down. Or especially if you’ve been doing the customer-facing longer than her, frame it as “XYZ works best for me” – if you frame it in terms of the results she’ll get from using a more pleasant tone or body language, that can help get the outcome you want.

    And as others have said, if you’re getting complaints or it’s severe or if you try the above and she brushes it off, it’s time to loop in a supervisor or manager.

    1. Snailing*

      Also, if she’s coming to you with a question she’s asked more than 2-3 times, I’d kindly point it out and suggest she keep a notebook of steps she needs to take to do whatever it is. Like if there’s a common computer glitch and you’ve already showed her how to get around it, “Sure, I’ll show you how I get around that glitch. I think we’ve actually been over this one before; will you take notes so you know how to fix it the next time?” And then refer her to the notes the next time she inevitably asks.

      I always take notes and jot down steps when I’m new to tasks and always thought it was common practice, but since I started training people, you’d be surprised how often people don’t take this step and then, surprise, they never remember how to do it!

  20. Ugggghhhh*

    You said that she got moved to this role when somebody else left; I wonder if the manager is already aware of your coworker’s customer service issues and that’s why she wasn’t doing that job previously.

    Talk with your manager. Maybe unbeknownst to you, they’re already trying to hire a new person so they can move Grumpy to a less public facing position.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Or that she really doesn’t like having to work weekends so is starting out in a bad mood.
      I’m not clear whether “She started filling in on Saturday shifts” is something she’s doing on a voluntary basis or of she was told he had to, and resents it. Or whether she was previously not covering the front desk at all, and so the behaviour isnt new, just something OP hasn’t seen in action before.

    2. AFac*

      I also think weekends usually bring more people and different people to libraries. More people with kids, more people just wanting to stop by quickly and get out rather than linger, a different demographic range. Her service may have been acceptable for weekday patrons, and might not cut it for busier weekend customers.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        She may also have been able to dodge some duties in the past working weekdays because someone else was available. (Which if this is the case makes it more a weak training on things I don’t like in my job issue.)

  21. Texas*

    Could you offer her feedback about the way she treats patrons in the same way she advised you on a quicker driving route to the store? If she views however she brought the trip thing up as a polite way to raise something with you, then I would imagine (or at least hope) she’ll feel you’re being polite to her if you mirror it.

  22. animaniactoo*

    I think that you can offer her feedback… by asking her if she would like some feedback. “Hey, I’ve noticed something that I think you could use some help with. Do you mind if I offer you some advice on this?”

    And you can offer her some feedback by telling her the honest truth when she asks you. “It’s not the questions as much as the way you ask them. I can explain that in more detail if that would help?”

    If she takes you up on it, you can talk about this being “soft skills” and “managing to talk to people and leave them with a good impression even when you would rather be anywhere but here and are frustrated to your eyeteeth”. That it’s about faking it until you make it… to the end of the day if necessary. Because you know that YOU hear a lot of complaints from customers, and if you’re hearing them, you can only assume that your/her/the manager is also hearing them, and you’re concerned that might become a problem for her.

  23. Red Wine Mom*

    I need to disagree with the commenters who suggest the OP let her mom know what is going on at work.
    This would be comparable to calling the husband, or letting other friends know the problems that are really only work-related issues.
    The manager is the one who should be informed that patrons are complaining about the co-workers lack of customer service skills.

    1. Essess*

      Agreed. There should be absolutely no discussion of coworker’s work performance with OP’s mom. That is violating professional and personal boundaries.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Seconded. This is conflating a personal relationship with a professional one and if you’ve read this blog for more than 5 nanoseconds, that generally doesn’t work out too well.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I don’t think the OP should be specific about the situation with their mom. But I think it’s fair to say “it’s important to me that we keep the work stuff out of our personal relationship, so if Friend and I ever have a work issue, I don’t want you to feel like you need to fix that.” It’s less about OP complaining to their mom or trying to rope her into fixing the problem and more about giving a really kind and polite “please stay out of this.”

    4. Wisteria*

      I wouldn’t call her Mom to ask Mom to address the problems, but mentioning to Mom the next time they talk that Coworker is a bit of a bear to work with is not out of line at all.


    If you can’t bring yourself to be direct with her, make it less rewarding for her to consult you. Can you point her to where she can find information for the questions that she’s asking, instead of just answering? Can you be “busy” when she needs something that she should solve? Can you “slow-roll” any answers you do give? Even if you do this just a portion of the time, she may start to get the message that you’re not Google-For-Librarians. You also retain a modicum of plausible deniability, which may be beneficial in this instance.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I agree to try to teach her to fish a bit more instead of just doing her work for her. Redirect her to resources. Maybe even suggest a cheat sheet for finding something in Sirsi or whatever her typical issue is.

  25. Texas Librarian*

    As a branch manager, please talk to the supervisor. It is time for her supervisor to sit down and talk with her. She may need additional training on computers, but she certainly needs some pointers on not being defensive when she doesn’t know the answer – our job isn’t to know the answer it’s to be able to find the answer, which is not always instantaneous.

  26. librarianmom*

    This is in part plain fear of looking foolish. Library work has become highly technical, computer-based, and complicated. Anyone who started work with a card catalog and physical books only environment can feel intimated and overwhelmed by the need to understand computers and the online environment. She may need the job, but is finding keeping up with the technological changes terribly difficult. She needs help —- both in training and in ways of coping with her stress.
    Also, like many people, she is not aware of how her manner is coming across to patrons. She may need help with giving her stock phrases to say, and more importantly, permission to take a moment to compose herself if she feels herself getting uptight.
    I would say that, yes, you do need to speak to your manager. But I would also say that you can be encouraging and supportive of her. Acknowledge that coming up with speedy answers can be stressful but gently point out that she was a little abrupt, share little “tips” you have discovered for this or that process, and generally help her feel that she can conquer what seems to her a might mountain of confusing technology.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I sympathize. It doesn’t help when your job/field changes on you and you become more and more inadequate at it. It’s extremely stressful to have to be a public expert in things you are not an expert on.

  27. RobotLibrarian*

    Another librarian chiming in!
    I have the same problem with one of my coworkers. She is actually just out and out rude and her attitude is contagious. She is often on her cell phone the entire time she is at the desk and sometimes chuckles to herself when I am nice to patrons. Unfortunately, upper management won’t do anything. Luckily, one of the other employees that is awful is retiring.

    All I can do is give good customer service and maybe that person will get so annoyed that they leave. You can, however let patrons know how they can actually complain to management.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      My first week at my job in a library, 7 years ago, a coworker came over to me and the manager (!) who was training me to say, “can you take over with this patron before I smack her in the face?!” And she dramatically put her face in her hands and shook her head at the idiocy of patrons.

      I was so shocked! Manager did not react at all. And the coworker has continued to be just like the woman the OP is working with – pretty miserable to have to help people with their stupid questions.

      It is really hard to take the advice here but encouraging patrons to fill in a feedback form or email the manager is really all you can do.

      1. blerpblorp*

        Hah that comment in and of itself really doesn’t shock me that much, as long as she didn’t say it where the patron could hear! But being frustrated occasionally with a difficult patron is one thing but the fact that she continued to have that attitude going forward is a bummer, but also not shocking. It does seem like a fair number of people who become librarians don’t seem to like providing customer service that much which does baffle me as a librarian myself (I’ve worked with a lot of them!)

  28. SaffyTaffy*

    I agree with a lot of what’s already here. Talk to management about your concerns. Have clear boundaries.
    Another thing which works very well for me at work is, when my colleague starts looking frustrated, I take a biiig deep breath and sweep my hands up and down with inhalation and exhalation- it’s amazing how often people spontaneously mimic me when I do this! Then I say, “hey. This is a Library. Nothing is urgent. Worst case scenario? The solution takes a little extra time.”
    I also pepper into our small talk stuff like, “a great thing about working in a Library is that we get to help people with simple problems!” or “I love Library work because nobody’s going to die if we make a mistake.”

    1. I know I sound terrible*

      Whenever I make a mistake at work, this is what I tell myself. We’re not ER doctors, nobody is going to die if it takes us a little bit longer to look up the information.

      But also, it’s okay to refer them to someplace else if it’s not something we have the skills/space/bandwidth to deal with. I’ll handle simple computer questions re: someone’s personal computer, but anything beyond that, contact Apple or Windows or whatever.

  29. Another Librarian*

    Another librarian here.
    First of all, “it me!”
    Second, I would like to rephrase the OP’s question a bit and see what the answers might look like.

    “I have a coworker who is doing so poorly at customer service that I am incredibly uncomfortable because 1. she represents our library (and profession) this way and 2. she is making my job much harder and me miserable. I have to answer the questions she is unable to answer, have to sort of fix things after she messes them up, and I have to listen to constant complaints about her that I am unable to address because I am not a manager.

    I told my manager but nothing can be done (because libraries are the worst places for managing things like this).

    All of this is stressing me and making my job an unhappy place. How can I feel better about this situation?”

    1. MassMatt*

      Why exactly is it that nothing can be done? I worked at a library when I was a teen and people got fired—young people especially that had not developed good work ethics etc. If you have terrible a employee (or worse, multiple) and the reaction is “shrug. Nothing we can do” then the bad employee to be most concerned about is the terrible manager.


      If it’s really a case of “nothing can be done”, then lean into gratitude (wherever possible), self-care and self-differention (“not my circus”/ “not my monkeys”). Humor, too. (Irony, whimsy, a touch of sarcasm… whatever helps…)

  30. Abogado Avocado*

    OP: You are a good person for caring about this coworker on multiple levels. I like the ideas of bumping this up to her/your supervisor. At the same time, it’s clear you have a personal relationship with your coworker and don’t want to jeopardize her job or her friendship with your Mom. Therefore, there are some strategies you might want to engage in that are commensurate with your personal relationship and your greater understanding of her life. I also sense from your query that this coworker may be one of those folks who doesn’t get how she comes across to patrons and, yet, here she is in a public-facing job that requires a lot of public contact!

    For example, when her tone seems “off” and she comes across as “frustrated, stressed out, and irritated” with patrons, you can take her aside and say, “Wow, you sounded like you were frustrated with that patron. Is everything okay?” You can then follow up with something like, “You know, I sometimes feel that way, too, and when a patron asks for help, I just have to remind myself to smile because I don’t want them to feel my frustration” (you can insert here whatever you do and say to make patrons feel welcomed when you’re stressed). Yes, this ordinarily is what a supervisor might say, but it’s also what a coworker who is a friend would say, too. And who knows? You may just learn that she, too, knows she’s not great with the public-facing work and doesn’t know how to get better at it. And that’s a project her supervisor can work on with her.

    You sound like a person with a high EQ and are exactly the sort of librarian I’d love to deal with at our local library. Good luck!

  31. Wisteria*

    but I know that she picks up on my annoyance

    Sounds like your tone with her might be similar to her tone with patrons. I think you can use that insight to address her tone in a coaching manner. You have standing to do that in a “Can I mention something to you?” sort of way. Peers, which you are, have the standing to give each other feedback if it’s done in a warm, helpful manner rather than a top down manner. But, watch your own tone first or you will come off lacking credibility.

  32. WantonSeedStitch*

    I agree with the people who are saying that the customer complaints should be directed to your manager. Either have the customers speak with them directly if they’re on the premises, or report them to your manager privately with an approach of “customers have been coming to me with complaints about Lucinda’s customer service. They say that she is rude/snippy/unhelpful. I feel like it’s not my role to bring these complaints up with Lucinda myself, but I thought you should know that this is happening.”

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Oops, hit enter before I was done. I was also going to suggest that when your coworker comes to you with questions, you should direct HER to your manager. “Lucinda, you should probably bring these questions to Marcy! I’m sure she can help you figure it out.” Then the manager can start getting a better idea of where Lucinda’s areas for improvement are, and can help figure out ways of getting her up to speed in those areas.

  33. OTGW*

    Like many have said, you need to bring this up to your manager if you haven’t. I work in libraries too, presumably in the same department. This isn’t really your job to solve. When a patron comes to you to complain, hand them your manager’s business card.

    However, if that’s not an option, the next time she pawns a patron off to you, say something like “Oh! here let me show you how to do a shelf check” or “when a patron has a question about their account, do XYZ.” Or if you’re in the middle of something, say “I can’t help your patron, you need to do this.” If she says she doesn’t know how, say “Okay you should talk to MANAGER and they can show you.”

    And like, if she’s not helping patrons, then what does she do all day??? You can’t carry all of this on your own. You can’t do everything for her.

    And her age, problems in personal life, and seniority are essentially moot, imo. You two are in the same position right? That means you’re peers. And everyone has something going on. I’ve had my dad in the hospital and had to act like everything was perfectly fine to my patrons.

    If things continue to be bad, talk to your director. They should care that there’s an employee that patrons are complaining about.

  34. SeluciaMD*

    Agree with others that you definitely need to alert management about the complaints and her behavior and the more factual you can keep it (without offering your own insights/perspective) the better. “I had X patrons complain to me on Saturday about Coworker. One said she was rude, and two others said she was unhelpful and dismissive. These patrons asked that I share their feedback with management.” Do it EVERY TIME it happens so they understand that it’s an ongoing pattern rather than an off day or a persnickety patron. Then if they ask for your feedback/perceptions, you can share. But this way you are simply conveying information – and it’s information they need and should want, and that is their job to address.

    Also, it may be worth calling it out in the moment. “You seemed really annoyed with that customer. What’s up?” or “Wow, that question Patron asked you seems to have made you really mad. I’m wondering why?” I realize that feels confrontational but if you do it with a kind, curious tone and demeanor, she may actually tell you what’s going on in a way that gives you room to say “Well, but that’s our job. People come to us for answers. We don’t always have to have them at our fingertips, but we should be willing to help them find them, right?” Or “yeah, I get that it can be annoying to have people ask what seem to be questions with obvious answers – but I remind myself that it’s what I’m here for.” Or something along those lines.

    Others here may be right that she won’t listen to you or won’t take “advice” well because she perceives you to be the child while she’s the wise adult. But at least this way you aren’t keeping it all bottled up inside while also giving her a chance to express her feelings/frustrations in a way that you can at least provide a counterpoint or alternative perspective for. All of that being said, this might just be who she is. And it might be worth talking to management about not working shifts with her anymore.

    Good luck OP! You sound like a wonderful librarian and your library is lucky to have you. Don’t let her chase you away because your patrons need you! :)

  35. Kella*

    Hmmmm I’m sensing a management issue behind the scenes. This is such a clear example of something to go to your manager about and OP didn’t even mention the idea of doing that, which makes me think that “you don’t do that” at their job. Also, Mom’s Friend has been at this job *longer* than OP has and yet doesn’t know how to answer a lot of the questions? Even if it’s a lack of training issue, it seems like she’d have the experience to know how to go about getting that training. So either a. that training isn’t available and Mom’s Friend knows it, b. she isn’t interested in knowing how to do her job, which is a performance problem that isn’t being addressed or c. she’s never known how to do her job and that’s a BIG performance problem that’s never been addressed. All three possibilities point to bad management enabling the situation.

  36. yet another librarian*

    hi op, another librarian here (academic and i mostly do systems work). definitely want to echo the comments that you should bring this up to your manager, because that is their job. it sounds like you are the go-to for computers because you are a little more tech-savvy, but i want to address this:

    “It’s much easier for me to just do something right the first time than get called in every time she feels like she’s making a mistake, but I know that she picks up on my annoyance…”

    something i have found useful in dealing with that annoyance is speaking to my manager about what tech know-how i can reasonably expect our public services staff to have–what should anyone at the desk be able to answer? this is a little easier for me because it’s my job to be the Computers Person, so i can say “anything beyond x, please refer to me.” if it’s not explicitly part of your job, you can frame it as “we’ve been getting questions like a, b, and c from patrons, and i’ve noticed that not all of the staff feel confident handling these/are giving patrons confusing or incorrect answers, leading to frustration. i’m able to answer these pretty quickly, so i’d be happy to lend my knowledge if you wanted to do some sort of training for everyone.” you can frame it as a “refresher” or “update.” lean on the whole In These New And Unprecedented Times thing if you want.

    alternately, is there a way for you to semi-formally split questions? it takes me about 30 seconds to figure out that someone can’t play video because their son installed a sixth adblock extension on their laptop, but i’m godawful at reader’s advisory. this won’t work if every question stresses her out, but if it’s certain types, it might be worth saying “hey, on saturdays, how about i’m point person for computers questions and you can be the go-to for children’s books/packing up curbsides/etc.”

    good luck, OP! you sound very generous and caring towards your patrons and your coworker alike. i think you’ll find a good solution for this.

  37. MassMatt*

    Where is the manager in all this? If the manager is never around because they take Saturdays off (when presumably the library is busiest) or for whatever reason you have a bad manager. Even small libraries should have someone in charge, and arguably they should be on hand more than in large libraries with many on staff.

    At the very least, tell people who complain who they need to complain to.

    1. Rebeck*

      One manager can’t be around for all of the library’s opening hours. That just isn’t physically possible.

  38. Hecuba*

    I would approach her like you’re doing her a favour because she’s superior to you in some way, and you’re willingly taking on the underling role… something like:

    “Hey Amarinthia, I’ve noticed you don’t seem to much enjoy the customer interactions when we get busy on a Saturday morning. Would you prefer to arrange things so I cover [xyz stuff she sucks at] while you take care of [abc] the things you’re best at? I don’t want you to feel stressed out if we can avoid it, and I really don’t mind dealing with the legwork”. It does mean doing yourself down a bit, but if otherwise you just have to endure the status quo, it seems like a decent enough sacrifice to improve both of your work environments.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      I agree, it seems like they’re kind of working on top of each other. Separating out the duties could be really helpful for both.

  39. Manana*

    Talk to her like a friend “I know there’s a lot going on with you right now and I care about you, but this set up doesn’t seem to be working for you. You seem frustrated and stressed out over certain duties. What can we do to make our work days more fun together so that we both don’t leave spent and exhausted at the end of the day?” This points out that you notice her attitude, are affected by it, and want it to stop but are meeting her halfway. If this were just a coworker I’d say go to your manager, but you have a lot of history with this lady and are tangled up in her life in a lot of ways. Being the “adult”, showing patience and compassion, and modeling a work ethic of service and care can help redefine your relationship to that of peers and not the surrogate mom/child dynamic she has fallen into.

  40. Fleur-de-Lis*

    A library director here – I would absolutely want to know about this behavior and would work to figure out what is going on here to address the problem. I know that many library managers are conflict-averse and can make things worse by not addressing issues (I’ve inherited some from my predecessor and it is yikes). I hope that your director is willing to hear you out. If you can document some specific instances (X happened on day Y with Z patron and I did A to try to help), it can really help the director in the conversation she will have. That said, I try to coach people on problems that I observe directly. That can mean that I change my schedule sometimes to be present at a different hour/day when the problematic interactions are happening, or ask if I can share specifics that might implicate the actual observer. I work hard not to make relationships between others any worse than they might already be! I hope your manager is taking that into account. Maybe she could “drop by” on a Saturday? I’ve done that and it’s helped mitigate some serious problems and allowed me to take more concrete action on violations with HR where appropriate.

  41. Zbrarian*

    If it’s any consolation, this story is playing out in libraries big and small nationwide. There’s a small and persistent population of aging library employees who have very strong ideas about how libraries should be run and how people should behave in libraries, and who are very averse to change. (There are also many, many older library staff who have remained adaptable, stayed current, and who are a vital part of operations). There’s also a scourge of managers who are so conflict averse that they let years pass with employees behaving badly hoping the employees will retire before they have to confront their poor job performance in a meaningful way. I did an extensive training program just for library supervisors and one of the main problems ALL the candidates described was inheriting an impossible employee from their predecessor because they had decided it was “pointless” or “impossible” to deal with someone who had been misbehaving for twenty plus years. But this drives good staff away, and it drives patrons away, and it’s lame for the person who is getting paid to manage to fall back on “but I don’t like conflict”. Managers gotta manage!

  42. not that kind of Doctor*

    I would tell her manager about the patron complaints. I agree that for every one who says something there are at least a handful of others who just gave up.

    Also, I think you could treat her asking if her questions annoy you as an opening. You could say, “no I love your questions, but I am concerned that patrons’ questions annoy you” or whatever softening, maybe-it’s-just-me language you need to add. Then at least it will be out there, in case she doesn’t actually know how she’s coming across. If she takes it badly you can apologize and never mention it again… except of course to her manager.

    I agree that you should leave your mom out of this. If she hears about it & asks you, you can tell her truthfully that it’s a work issue & has nothing to do with her friendship.

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