GUIDANCE WITH PEOPLE
Guidance for working with a variety of people you will encounter at the
WORKING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE HARD OF HEARING:
1. Be sure the person can see your face as you speak. Don't put your hand in
front of your mouth while you talk, or talk as you walk away from the patron.
2. Speak slowly and clearly but don't exaggerate your lip movements (that may
3. Be sure you have the person's attention before speaking.
4. Try to maintain eye contact. This helps keep the feeling of direct
5. If a person does not understand your words, try a different phrase. Some
words are at a pitch that can't be heard, no matter how loud you say them.
6. Don't be embarrassed about asking the patron to write down a question, or
writing down information yourself.
WORKING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR HAVE DIFFICULTY SEEING:
1. There's no need to feel self-conscious about using phrases like, "I see what
you mean" or "Let's take a look."
2. If you need to guide a blind person, let the person take your arm, not the
other way around.
3. Try to have good magnifying glasses available.
4. Be sure you have good lighting and large, clear signs.
WORKING WITH OLDER ADULTS
It's important to be sensitive to the possibility that an older patron may have
a physical impairment (poor vision or hearing) which makes communication more
difficult. On the other hand, we shouldn't make assumptions about older patrons
and their ability to communicate their needs. Not all older patrons need large
print books! Some older patrons may not be comfortable with the technological
advances that have affected libraries. These patrons may need some encouragement
to try the Internet or online catalogs. Older patrons may also be seeking
companionship or someone to talk to. A busy reference desk isn't a good place
for a leisurely chat, so a gentle reminder that other patrons are waiting may be
WORKING WITH CHILDREN
Children should be shown the same level of respect and courtesy as adults. Here
are some important things to remember when working with children:
1. Try to be at the child's eye level.
2. Speak to the child and not the parent.
3. Don't assume all questions are school questions. On the other hand, school is
children's work, so treat school questions as real and important.
4. Children's questions should be referred when you can't find something in your
branch. Treat children's questions the same way you treat adults' questions.
5. In doing the reference interview, take special care to find out what the real
information need is. Children may have more trouble than adults explaining the
question to you.
6. Be sensitive to matching the information you provide with the reading level
of the particular child (not just the grade the child is in), and to providing
the right amount of information.
7. All children should be treated equally. Some children are difficult (just
like adults), but all deserve the same courtesy.
WORKING WITH PATRONS FROM A DIFFERENT CULTURE
1. Speak in brief, simple sentences rather than long, compound or complex ones.
Try not to use library jargon.
2. Don't ask "either/or" questions; pose two questions instead.
3. Speak slowly and articulate distinctly. If necessary write it down for the
patron. Show an individual when possible what you need or want.
4. Don't expect verbal reinforcement such as "I see" or "Uh-huh" when you are
explaining something to a patron. Watch for non-verbal communication. If you
want an acknowledgement, ask "Do you understand?" or watch for a nod.
5. If you see that a patron has misunderstood your direction after the person
has left your station, don't assume that the patron will eventually discover the
error. Follow through with whatever assistance you can give.
6. Recognize that people from some cultures are not demonstrative. Smiling may
hide emotions such as frustration or confusion.
7. Silence from patrons of some cultures, should not be construed as
misunderstanding or rudeness. Some other possible reasons are:
a) respect for your authority
b) full agreement with what you are saying or doing
c) fear of being judged by how he or she speaks English
8. Realize that name order may be different for some cultures. Ask for "family
name" instead of "last name." Women from some cultures may retain their maiden
names after marriage, e.g. Vietnamese.
9. Remember that saving face is important in many cultures. Your attitude is
very important. Always show mutual respect!
10. Be patient.
11. Keep smiling.
12. If you don't understand, ask questions, but keep questions short.
13. Don't ask negative questions which can easily be misinterpreted -- for
example, "Don't you like mysteries?"
14. Allow time for patrons to accomplish what they came for, even when you are
15. Remember that word of mouth is more important than the written word when
people are new to this country. Use contacts who understand the language when
possible, and encourage personal contact.
16. Get help when possible to complete a communication transaction.
17. Remember that in some cultures it is considered polite to avoid eye contact.
18. Allow time for the patron to translate mentally what you have said.
19. Don't raise your voice; this may be perceived as anger.
20. Avoid idioms and metaphors (for example, "That's cool").
Prepared by the Sunnyvale Public Library staff, April 1985. From: Liu, Grace.
PROMOTING LIBRARY AWARENESS IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES: BASED ON THE EXPERIENCES OF
THE SOUTH BAY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SYSTEM, 1984-1985. 1985.
WORKING WITH PEOPLE WHO DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH WELL
Our mission is getting people the information they need. To do that we have to
find out what people want. This can be very difficult when there is a language
barrier. Here are some tips to help you overcome that:
1. Know and use the expertise of staff members in your library or library system
who can help translate.
2. Show concern for the patrons by letting them know you are trying to help.
3. Speak clearly and not too fast.
4. Try not to use idiomatic phrases or slang. Keep sentences short.
5. If the patron does not understand you, try different words or phrases. The
ones you used first may not have been mastered yet.
6. Don't be afraid to use a dictionary.
7. It may help to have people write down what they want. Sometimes they know the
words but have trouble with pronunciation. However, be especially sensitive to
patrons who may not be able to write in English yet.
8. Identify other patrons in your community who may be willing to help
HISPANIC FIRST NAMES AND LAST NAMES
When a child is registered at birth he/she is registered with a given name which
may be different from the baptismal name. It is very common for a Hispanic
person to have more than one name. Many people who have two names will be called
by both names together as: Maria Elena, Miguel Angel, Rosa Maria, Juan Jose,
etc. The names are two names considered as one. They are usually used as one
name, not a first name and middle initial. It is very uncommon for these people
to have a middle initial. This usually is changed as soon as they come to the
United States since everyone here is supposed to have a middle initial. Many
people have only one name and when they come to the U.S.A. they are confused by
people asking for their second name. Most people in Mexico and Latin American
countries use both their father's last name and their mother's last name, in
that order. The reason for this is mainly for identification because many people
share the same names (both first and last names). In Mexico, a woman retains her
last name and never takes her husband's last name. It seems the biggest
confusion here is the last name. If a patron gives two last names, which is his
paternal last name and which is his maternal last name? Most Hispanic persons
use their given name, then their paternal last name and last, their maternal
Example: Caridad Bravo Adams
Caridad - given name
Bravo - father's last name
Adams - mother's last name
or, if married, could be her husband's last name
Her last name is Bravo Adams.
Often the safest way to ask a patron for his name is to ask for first name, then
father's last name. Then ask if they have a middle initial. This way you never
get the wrong last name. Or, if the patron is a woman, ask her if she goes by
her father's or her husband's last name.
Adapted from: Liu, Grace. PROMOTING LIBRARY AWARENESS IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES:
BASED ON THE EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUTH BAY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SYSTEM, 1984-1985.
ASIAN NAMING SYSTEMS
INDOCHINESE NAMING SYSTEM
Vietnamese have first, last, and usually middle names. They give their last name
first, then middle name, then first. Last names are not commonly used. People
are usually addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Miss followed by their first names.
Married women retain their own last name, but may be referred to as Mrs. and
the husband's first name. Children have the father's last name. Middle name
'Van' is for men, 'Thi' is for women. Common last names are Nguyen, Tran, Le,
Cambodians give their last name first, then perhaps a middle name (though rare),
then first name. They often go by both last and first names together, or by
middle and first. Married women retain their last name, but may be referred to
as Mrs. and husband's first name.
Laotians give first name first, then last name; no middle name. Last names are
rarely used; some people actually have none. Married women change their last
name to husbands'. Laotian names are long.
Hmong give their last name first, then first name. Some men have a middle name.
People are often known or addressed by both names together. Married women retain
their own last names which are monosyllabic. The most common Hmong last names
(or clan names) are Chang, Chue, Fanf, Her (Heu), Khing, Kue, Lor (Lo), Ly
(Les), Moua, Thao (Thor), Vang, Vue, Xiong, Yang.
In each group (except Hmong) kinship terms are used extensively in addressing
family and friends. People are referred to as 'big sister X', 'aunt Y' or 'uncle
Z' or simply as sister, aunt, uncle according to their age and status, even if
the person is not a blood relative. Some refugees who are aware of the American
system of naming may have already changed their names around accordingly, and
will give their name to Americans contrary to their traditional manner.
The Indochinese Community Health and Education Project
3930 Utah Street, Suite J
San Diego, CA 92104
From: Liu, Grace. PROMOTING LIBRARY AWARENESS IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES: BASED ON
THE EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUTH BAY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SYSTEM, 1984-1985. 1985.
The Vietnamese have usually three, and sometimes four names ordered on the
pattern: family name, middle name, and familiar or "first" name (e.g., Doan Toan
Phuc, i.e., Phuc of the family Doan). To conform to American habits and needs
the refugee may have already reversed the order (e.g., Phuc Toan Doan, in the
example previous), so if you have any doubt, don't be afraid to ask. At times
individuals may be known among family and friends by both middle and familiar
names (e.g., Minh Duc, Americanized as ("Mindy"), but it is not improper to
refer to these individuals by the familiar name only.
Pronunciation is occasionally difficult, but general approximations usually
suffice. The sound most American have trouble with is "ng-", something alien to
our tongue, but not that hard once you get used to it. One way to practice the
sound is by pronouncing the English word sing and hold on to the final sound.
Then, start adding a second syllable to it (e.g., sing-ngo). Finally, say the ng-
with the desired second syllable without using sing.
Common Family Names and Approximate Pronunciations
Nguyen (Wen) Pham (Fahm) Do (Doh)
Ngo (Ngoh) Phan (Fahn) Cao (Kow)
Tran (Trun) Ho (Hoh) Pho (Faw)
Le (Lay) Dinh (Ding) Luu (Lou)
Doan (Dwon) Ly (Lee) Vu (Voo)
Some Common Familiar Names and Approximate Pronunciation
Bihn (Bing) Hong (Hohng) Son (Sun)
Cung (Koong) Hien (Hyen) Tam (Tum)
Chieu (Chew) Hai (Hi) Tan (Tun)
Cuc (Kook) Loc (Lope) Tuyet (Twet)
Duc (Dook) Minh (Ming) Tho (Taw)
Dao (Dow) Mai (My) Thanh (Tihng or Tan)
Hoa (Hwah) Ngoc (Ngawp) Trac (Trook)
Hue (Hway) Phuc (Fook) Vinh (Ving)
Huong (Hoong) Sang (Sahng) Xuye (Swen)
Note: The "ih" in Vietnamese sounds similar to the long i sound in English, eg.
Prepared by the
Indochinese Community Health and Education Project
3930 Utah Street, Suite J
San Diego, CA 92104
From: Liu, Grace. PROMOTING LIBRARY AWARENESS IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES: BASED ON THE
EXPERIENCES OF THE SOUTH BAY COOPERATIVE LIBRARY SYSTEM, 1984-1985. 1985.