Who Says There’s a Problem?

Shelley Ferrell


This article compares the concept of the “problem patron” in the library and information science (LIS) and nursing literatures as the basis for developing a new framework for use in LIS. The trend in the LIS literature has been to identify either the patron or the patron’s behavior as the problem. The nursing literature uses interactionist theories to contextualize the so-called problem within a larger framework that includes, among other things, the nurse, hospital-related norms of behavior, the patient care environment, the philosophy of care, and the patient’s own life experiences. This paper examines theories of stigma, deviance, and labeling, among others, as they have been used in the nursing literature to examine the process and effect of labeling.

I argue that the work on labeling found in the nursing literature provides the foundation for a new framework to think about the “problem patron” in LIS. In the proposed framework, I define problem behavior at three different levels: the community, the library, and the individual. Using this framework is helpful for thinking about solutions because it encourages us to respond to the “problem” at the level where the behavior is labeled as deviant. This framework is used to explore solutions offered in the LIS literature for the problems that can be identified at each of these different levels.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/rusq.50n2.141


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