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Problem patron

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A problem patron is a common label for a library user that interrupts the normal operations of the library.

For example, a homeless patron whose body odor disturbs others, someone with a mental illness that manifests itself in the harassment of library staff, or someone whose loud talking on a mobile telephone disturbs others (see cell phones in libraries) could all be called problem patrons.

Most libraries have established policies regarding user rights and responsibilities to define a set of behaviors beyond clearly illegal activities that are unacceptable in the library.

Some have suggested the term "problem patron" is itself inappropriate. As organizations established to serve and educate users of increasingly varying backgrounds and abilities, some libraries may require greater sensitivity in classifying customers as being a problem.

For example, if one defines a problem patron as someone who repeatedly asks inappropriate questions at the reference desk, does this mean that someone who asks for information that is readily available on the library website is therefore a "problem"?

The label of "troubled librarian" has been introduced by library critics for those library workers who are improperly trained or follow bad service practices.


  • McNeil, Beth & Johnson, Denise (1995). Patron Behavior in Libraries: A Handbook of Positive Approaches to Negative Situations. ISBN: 0838906621
  • Shuman, Bruce (1984). River Bend revisited: the problem patron in the library. ISBN: 0897741250
  • Willis, Mark (1999). Dealing with Difficult People in the Library. ISBN: 0838907601