Why Did The Drug Dealer Go To The Library?
By Rebecca Sargeant in Human Behavior
I’ll bet you thought that was the opening to a really good joke 😉 When in actual fact, it’s the reason the head of HR from a library hired me.
Recently, I was speaking at an HR event about “How to catch a Liar” when the head of HR of a library approached me. She explained most of her working days was spent calling ambulances, calling police and filling out incident reports for staff of the library. It was not uncommon for her and the staff to find someone passed out in a drug induced coma on a reading chair, in the bathrooms or even in the stacks.
Fascinated as to why a library would be having this problem, we started to discuss the more in-depth issue of “Why would any business (legal or not) see using a library as a competitive place to work from?” In my mind the drug users are simply someone else’s “customers”. The more the focus is on that particular customer’s behavior the later you are to solving the problem, the transaction has already occurred. The best you can do is keep going in a circle. By readjusting the view from the end customer, to why they are coming here, we find the business that is drawing them here. Now we gain a new perspective that offers a million new solutions and opportunities.
Constrained by the politics of purchasing new items, I was presented with a challenge. Could I suggest ten changes, only using the materials on hand, to help provide a safer environment for both the staff and the patrons of the library? As an absolute junkie for a great puzzle to solve by using my human behavior expertise, I jumped at the challenge.
I started by simply looking around at the situation. There were three areas that I thought I would focus on, that would have an immediate impact. The Coffee Bar, the Magazine Section, and the Restrooms.
The Coffee Bar is approximately a 12ft by 12ft area immediately inside the front entrance, to the right. This area uses an old wood card catalog as a counter to service coffee from. In front of the service counter there was a comfortable living room set-up that allowed patrons to enjoy their beverages. The area was also decorated with a couple small high tables with stools to sit at, plants and artificial trees. The only physical wall in this area was behind the service counter. The server stood with their back to a floor to ceiling window that overlooked the entrance walkway. The furniture and decorative trees created a temporary wall between the Coffee Bar and the Magazine Section.
The Magazine Section is approximately a 12ft by 12ft area to the right of the Coffee Bar. This area was furnished with several single chairs. The chairs were made with nice pine, and had built in seat cushions. Over time, three large pillows were added to the inside of the chairs. One pillow on each side of the chair, and one to the back. These cushions turned the chairs into a comfy cocoon for the person sitting in them. There are two physical walls enclosing this section. The first wall is a continuation of the floor to ceiling window that is also overlooking the same walkway the Coffee Bar does. The other physical wall was the outside wall of the building, that the magazines were displayed on. The furniture and decorative trees from the Coffee Bar create one temporary wall, while book shelves created another. Better than just being a magazine section, this area is a great office area for any entrepreneur to work out of. There are four walls, an entrepreneur myself I can quickly visualize curling up in a chair while still being able to see anyone approaching me, and clients simply need to drive by that big glass window to see if I am “In” my office.
The restrooms were the last area we looked at. They were located downstairs in a back room, behind six heavily stacked bookshelves. The restroom would be a natural place to have a private discussion with my staff and / or my customers. The added advantage of the restrooms is that they are quiet, with a heavy self-closing doors, handy needle disposal boxes, broken lights, and a lack of attention to detail by the cleaning company. As an entrepreneur, this area provides me a place where my clients are comfortable, ensuring quick and easy transactions, increasing overall business revenue.
With these three areas surveyed, it was time to provide the ten things I would change.
Combine the Coffee Bar and The Magazine Section to create a space that is visually stimulating to draws the attention of all the patrons coming in and out of the library. Encourage social engagement between the patrons themselves and staff in this area.
- Remove all the extra pillows that are not fixed to the chairs. Taking away the ability to cocoon in them.
- When possible encourage interactive work spaces by replace single chairs with circular tables with an excessive amount of chairs.
- Move the Servicing Counter, three quarters down the glass wall towards the Magazine Display.
- To ensure everyone looks into the space several times during their visit place extremely bold colored flowers on the right side of the service counter.
- Take away the ability for outside traffic to see the patrons seeing inside, move the plants, artificial trees and high tables with stools to along the window.
- Expand the living room setting to include the entire 12ft x 25ft space. While ensure no matter where someone is sitting they can hear and see each other’s faces.
Make the Restroom feel like a hospital because no one likes going to the hospital.
- Speak with the cleaning company about their lack of attention to detail to negotiate a one-time special cleaning to bring the restrooms up to the standards a hospital would use. See if they could use the same cleaning products a hospital uses.
- Once the special cleaning is completed and to ensure the restroom sustains the new level of cleanliness have the restrooms attended to at the beginning of the cleaning shift.
- Replace the burned out lights with higher wattage bulbs. Going forward as the other bulbs burn out again replace them with higher wattage bulbs.
- Contact the Ministry of Health for their free posters about Drug uses, smoking and abuse. Place these posters in strategic places in the restroom to ensure they are in the direct line of site for people using the restrooms. Change the posters every month or ASAP if graffiti appears on them.
- Prop the self-closing doors open.
- Place a sensor in the door way that rings a chime every time someone enters or leaves the bathroom.
- Find a way to play classical music in the bathrooms.
Anonymity is a library’s curse and it’s time to break that curse.
- With the Coffee Bar the library is well positioned to have the staff introduce themselves and get to know the patrons on a first name basis.
- Provide the staff at Check Out Desk and the Coffee Bar an easy way to keep communication open, by ensuring clear line of sight to each other. The simple glances, smiles and wave back and forth between these two areas will disrupt anyone who is trying to go unnoticed.
- Ensuring no matter where a patron or staff member sits their face can’t be hidden, this too will also disrupt that person hiding in plane sight. If a chair is positioned that you can only see someones back, be bold and ask to turn the chair for health and safety reasons. Doing this once or twice to anyone will discourage all re-positioning of the furniture to their advantage again.
- Encourage a policy of no hats or hoodies will also help.
- When patrons come in greeting them by their first name will go a long way to create an open community that will feel comfortable greeting each other.
- Host a variety of different weekly Networking Meetings, in the Coffee Bar at all different times of the day. Keep the schedule flexible and full. This will keep this space from getting to quiet and will encourage turnover of the people sitting there.
When I left the Head of HR of the Library with this small list of changes she felt empowered to make these minor changes that I predicted would have significant impact on keeping everyone safe. During our 45 days follow-up conversation the library was able to implement approximately 20% of my suggestions. That 20% change she has been able to calculate a 50% decreased in incident reports and the staff and patrons are feeling happier about coming to the library again.
If you would like to know more about me and why I made the suggestions I made, you can, simply contact me. For more details about, Drug Dealers being the greatest entrepreneurs, pick up the book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner