Ask an Agent: How Do You Deal with Bad Hygiene?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question: I have a teen and her mother that come to my Teen Advisory Board, and they have terrible body odor. Being around them is almost unbearable. The teen is wanting to help with my tween and children’s programs, and I am concerned she will offend the other patrons. I would appreciate suggestions on how to handle this situation. Thank you!

 Nikki (Cleveland Bradley County Public Library) says:

This one is super tough. Our public policy states “Patrons whose bodily hygiene is offensive so as to constitute a nuisance to other persons shall be required to leave the building. This includes physically offensive conditions such as unpleasant body and/or infested clothing or personal effects. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times.” For the most part when it’s had to be enforced it’s been with homeless patrons who were bathing in the sinks or sleeping in the periodical room or that kind of thing, but I’ve also experienced smelly teens – beyond the regular kind of eating Doritos and being adolescent kinds of smells – and asking them to leave the library or leave a program just isn’t an option for me.

After talking it over with my director and looking at different options and not having anything really click as a solution, I got inspiration in the bathroom of my son’s preschool. They have trays (I asked my husband to scope out the men’s restroom too) of personal care items in each bathroom. There was spray deodorant, scented lotion, feminine care items, that kind of thing and similar items for guys too. The preschool is in a church that also has a foodbank and feeding program and does a lot of outreach like opening their doors to allow people in to come in and sleep on nights when the temperature goes below freezing in our area. It was their way to kindly deal with the smell of some of their visitors without offending and I thought it was genius.

I also recognize that our area has a huge meth problem (the highest number of busts in the state happen in our county) and that many of my teens have been in sketchy housing and home life situations and just may not have access to the things they need to smell good. So I have kind of a concierge tray that goes out in the bathroom during teen programs. I coupon and end up with a lot of free or cheap things and a lot of sample items that would be donated anyway. It also helps that we have a bathroom that is teen area adjacent so I don’t have to worry about the things walking away with just any old patron. And honestly, even when they do walk away it’s because they are needed and it isn’t a big deal to just replace the stuff. Some spray deodorant, mouthwash and little cups, some feminine hygiene items, a pack of baby wipes and everyone is smelling great(ish).


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