The Library Rules

By Jessica Horvath

One thing I've learned during my time in the library world is that libraries treat their policies and procedures manuals like security blankets. Rules make the introverted librarian feel safe and sometimes rules even make the library safe. While rules can be dandy, I think there's a line that libraries cross all the time. A point in which the rules stop making sense, and the limitations for the patron are terribly unwelcoming. If libraries will ever be universally known as the "third place," we better make the visitors feel, at the very least, welcome. Let me illustrate my point:

Imagine going to a friend's house to play your favorite game, let's pretend it's Yahtzee.

You walk up to her front door, which has a laminated sign, in that dreadful comic sans, asking, "*PLEASE* Turn your cell phones OFF or put on VIBRATE before you enter."

"Well," you shrug, "guess she doesn't like noise."

You ring the door bell and enter, politely overlooking the tangerine vinyl furniture.

"How's it going?" you ask.

"You need to keep your voice down," she says.

You whisper, "Where are we playing Yahtzee?"

"Over by that table, under the sign that says 'Yahtzee Table.'" Guess this friend likes signage too.

When you sit down at the designated Yahtzee table, you notice that a dull golf pencil is tethered down with twine and an old piece of scotch tape.

"Why did you tether this pencil?"

"So someone doesn't steal it," she asserts.

"By the way," this "friend" warns, "you only have 15 minutes left to play Yahtzee, and then the next person needs to come over and take a turn."

Disappointed, you say, "But, I just got here!"

"Not my fault," she says, "that's the policy."

Does this resemble the typical user experience at your library?

When evaluating your library's policies, do more than put yourself in the patrons' shoes. Determine which policies are suffering from a mental illness (obsessive, germaphobic, schizophrenic, etc.) and kill them off before you sound like that "regular" who draws his mustache on with a sharpie and wears stiletto heels. You've lost touch with reality when you think over-signage will stop the bathroom questions, and you've completely lost your mind once you insist the precious number two pencils be kept in the locked drawer. And really, will the library go bankrupt if the last stapler disappears off the reference desk?

Remember, these aren't just your patrons or "customers"; these are your neighbors, your fellow man. The library, for better or for worse, is your home. We should live up to our notorious reputation for sharing, and welcome our twisted and sometimes smelly world into our home.

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Comments

I come in to play Yahtzee and he is at the table shouting into his cell phone. I ask the host how long each person gets to play at the table and she says, "as long as they want."

But another table opens right next to this one, so I sit down to play. I roll 5 sixes and yell, "Yahtzee!" but no one hears me because Mr. Cell Phone is still shouting.

So there he is, shouting and sitting, and in my opinion, not even really playing. And my experience is terrible, so I leave. And the 30 people behind me leave, too, because your Yahtzee parlor is not so Yahtzee friendly.

Yes, some rules are unfair and make serving the public difficult. But every place has rules. Some rules are designed to allow more people to enjoy their game of Yahtzee.

If it's possible, then your library could create an area for cell phone users, loud talkers and table squatters. But everyone shouldn't be forced to have every bit of space invaded by this behavior. Have both Quiet Space and Noisy Space, but if that's not possible, Quiet Space wins.

"Rules make the introverted librarian feel safe and sometimes rules even make the library safe."
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In my experience, "introverted" librarians are too...introverted to exert their influence into the rule-making arena.

Most rules are in place to protect patrons, property and provide for a safe, fair and positive user experience for the greatest number of patrons. They are also there to help mitigate the possibility of lawsuits...hence, I suppose, rules satisfy the lawyers who represent the library's interests.

You are SOOO right!

People like rules in a public library. I often have patrons ask me to tell other patrons to stop talking so loud on their cell phone, stop looking at porn, stop leaving their children unattended, etc.

Public libraries are just flophouses if they don't have a basic set of rules. People come to libraries to study and to do research. That is the purpose of libraries. Creating an environment where that can occur should be the first priority of libraries.

If they don't want rules tell them to go to a Buffalo Wild Wings with their laptop.

I think there is an issue of if a rule under a certain set of circumstances undermines the aims of the library, a policy I think is only ever a guideline for making a decision.

It's simple: Any rule with which I disagree is a BAD rule. It's really all about ME and MY experience.

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