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Passive Aggressive Library Signs
April 16, 2010 4:53 AM   Subscribe

Passive Aggressive Library Signs Everyone loves librarians, don't they? In honor of National Library Week, here's a collection of threatening library signs. Librarians can be VICIOUS. Some librarians hate those signs more than you'd think: Ten Signs I Hope I Never See in Libraries Again. And just in case you missed them, Five Technically Legal Signs for Your Library if you worry about PATRIOT related issues.
posted by Blake (111 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget MeFi's own.
posted by LSK at 5:00 AM on April 16, 2010


This one could easily be legit. I guess it depends on where the sign is.

As for no cellphones: I think it's pretty reasonable to expect people to be quiet in the library. And people on cellphones rarely speak quietly.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


With DU, I'm scratching my head here about why "no cell phones" signs in libraries are terrible, passive-aggressive, or whatever. IANALibrarian, but I am a regular patron of public and academic libraries, and I see signs like this posted everywhere. The libraries I use that don't have a no-phone policy, or that have a rule but don't enforce it, can get unbelievably noisy, what with all the ringtones and half-shouted conversations.
posted by philokalia at 5:10 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I really don't see why these are referred to as "passive agressive"... sheesh, they try and use a little humor to solve problems....

It has to suck to be a librarian sometimes... give 'em a break.
posted by HuronBob at 5:11 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love the playful, festive font on #18 Thieves be Warned!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:12 AM on April 16, 2010


I really enjoyed the list of people who have not stopped by sign. But yeah also don't get the protest over the no cell phone signs.
posted by edbles at 5:18 AM on April 16, 2010


1. These signs are not passive-aggressive. They state directly that certain behavior is forbidden. A passive-aggressive sign would say "Sure, go ahead and put your Coke next to the computer. I hope nothing happens to your research paper when you get up to go to the bathroom."

2. If you have a problem with rule-proclaiming signage, what's your solution to problematic patron behavior?

3. No hats and sunglasses? WTF?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:20 AM on April 16, 2010 [26 favorites]


With DU, I'm scratching my head here about why "no cell phones" signs in libraries are terrible, passive-aggressive, or whatever.

I think it's more the way the message is conveyed, rather than the actual message. And taken literally, it would stop people from texting, browsing the web on their smartphone, etc.

"Please don't talk loudly and disturb others' or 'please go to x part of the library to talk' would be a better way of phrasing it, perhaps. [IAAL, and I appreciate the need for quiet; I've been shushed by my own patrons (university students) before. But there's a nice way and a nasty way of saying these things].
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:21 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm scratching my head here about why "no cell phones" signs in libraries are terrible, passive-aggressive, or whatever.

I got 'spoken to' in the library a couple of weeks ago for taking a photo of a book with my iPhone.

My son said afterward "I don't want to go there any more. The Library lady is mean."
posted by anastasiav at 5:22 AM on April 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


My experience is that people (mostly college students, in my case) have gotten better at talking on cell phones, mostly, I expect, by turning the volume way up (and technological advances). This has the downside that the voice level of the person standing in my library is not really an issue, but the amplified voice of the person they are talking to is.

It's a bad idea to fixate on technology. A quiet cell phone conversation is no more disruptive than a quiet conversation between two physically present people. And it leads to absurd discussions. I worked at a campus library a while back that had very few terminals, and we needed to keep them open for people to use the catalog and the electronic journals. So -- "no email." I called one student on it, and he was like "It's not really email; I am telnetting to the servers on the 6th floor and..." And I was like "Dude, do not make me go get the yardstick, you know what that sign means."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


And people on cellphones rarely speak quietly.

I could never understand this. YOUR MOUTH IS RIGHT NEXT TO A MICROPHONE for christ's sake.

Like people who, upon meeting someone that doesn't speak their language, think maybe IF THEY JUST YELL AT THEM they'll understand better.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:26 AM on April 16, 2010


Also...

No hats and sunglasses? WTF?

Banks do this now as well. It's so the security cameras can get a good shot of your face.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:27 AM on April 16, 2010


I am a librarian, and I didn't find most of those signs to be passive agressive. They said exactly what they meant. If anything, they were pretty blunt. The French fry sign might have been a little extreme, but it does get annoying to have to go around cleaning up after people who don't follow clearly posted rules. It rankles at time to have a master's degree and feel like a combination googler/maid/scold. Libraries have rules so that the maximum people can use them comfortably. If that impedes your conversing/snacking/general obnoxiousness, then there's probably another place that will suit you better.
posted by LiliaNic at 5:29 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


The font on this sign makes me a little concerned. Anyone know what it is?
posted by vapidave at 5:29 AM on April 16, 2010


Oh, I should add that my department just had a staff meeting yesterday, and we decided that while quiet cell phone conversations are absolutely fine, we're going to stick with a printed policy of no cell phone conversations at all in the reference department. We reasoned that if people think they're not supposed to be speaking on cell phones, they'll probably be quieter and more furtive about it than if we just asked them to do it quietly.
posted by LiliaNic at 5:32 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


PLEASE KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED SO BATS DO NOT COME INTO THE BUILDING is a perfectly clear, non-passive-aggressive sign. Also, hilarious.
posted by mediareport at 5:39 AM on April 16, 2010 [21 favorites]


A quiet cell phone conversation is no more disruptive than a quiet conversation between two physically present people.

I don't know, there's something about a one-sided conversation full of irregular pauses that I find way more irritating than an ordinary two-sided conversation. Maybe that's just me.

And if I had to choose between a library with "passive-aggressive" no-mobile-phone signs that are actually enforced and a library with an open slather policy on noisiness, I'd take the first one. On the other hand, there's something about any variation on "Smile, you're on camera" that really pisses me off.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:42 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


@vapidave I think that's a stencil template drawn in by hand.
posted by LSK at 5:42 AM on April 16, 2010


I could never understand this. YOUR MOUTH IS RIGHT NEXT TO A MICROPHONE for christ's sake.

My Dad does this. Because he is loud. If he were standing right next to you he would be equally as loud. The presence or absence of a microphone has no effect on someone's inherent standard volume level. Although he does it in his car, not in public libraries. So at least I know I'm not going to wake up at 40 screaming into my wrist implanted phone in the middle of a public library. Instead, I'll be screaming into my wrist implanted phone in my FLYING HOVER CAR.
posted by edbles at 5:44 AM on April 16, 2010


LSK: "Don't forget MeFi's own."

Actually, there are dozens of librarians on MeFi. Don't rile them up.
posted by Plutor at 5:46 AM on April 16, 2010


Yeah, clearly no idea what passive aggressive means. These days, any webpage featuring "passive aggressive" signs is really just "a list of signs asking me to do things I don't want to". Also, what exactly is the deal with the 10 signs I never want to see? "My rights are being infringed! I can't eat, drink, or chat on my phoooone!" And the signs he wants to see include a sign about digital media? Whoop de doo, I can get digital crap at home.

PS: I am sending this with my cellphone
posted by Deathalicious at 5:50 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


My son said afterward "I don't want to go there any more. The Library lady is mean."

Oh yeah, there are definitely mean librarians. Our regular library is all on a single floor and the children's library can get kind of loud. No big deal.

The next town over, where we sometimes also go, has isolated the children's library in the basement so sound doesn't propagate but they STILL shush little children. It's really tension-producing which is not conducive to remembering the library has a happy place.
posted by DU at 5:54 AM on April 16, 2010


I got 'spoken to' in the library a couple of weeks ago for taking a photo of a book with my iPhone.

Why on earth would that be offensive? I can see Borders or B&N not liking it (because chances are I'm saving it for later library or Amazon-finding), but...?

That she made your son dislike the library, too, is doubly awful.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:57 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


, what exactly is the deal with the 10 signs I never want to see? "My rights are being infringed! I can't eat, drink, or chat on my phoooone!"

That guy is a very well-known library blogger, has a column in Library Journal, etc. So he's speaking from a librarian's point of view, in terms of trying to make the library more welcoming. [The digital stuff? Some librarians really like digital...]

I agree that most of these signs aren't passive-agressive in the correct sense of the word.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:00 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


DO NOT CHEW ON THE HEADPHONE CHORDS

What the hell is my cat doing at the library!?!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:00 AM on April 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


If I had more free time, and was just a little bit more of a jerk than I am, I would so love to drive from library system to library system, testing this very widespread notion that public libraries must welcome people into the building, whatever their behaviour.

I could never ever bathe, BE REALLY LOUD!!! and swear a lot, eat whatever god-awful fast food I felt like, play PSP games and yak away on my cell phone, hog the internet terminals all day long (every day) playing online games and looking at dating sites, print out lots of stuff I never pay for, drop garbage everywhere, intimidate people, just be a massive prick in general. And nine times out of ten, the managers will still smile smile smile at me and thank me for using the library and bend over backwards to accommodate my every whim and whine. Even if another dozen regular patrons stop going because of my obnoxious attitude and behaviour.

Short of walking up to the stacks and setting books on fire, it seems to me just about anything goes at your local public library these days. Enjoy it while it lasts!

/bitter
posted by stinkycheese at 6:03 AM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


This link (flickr) on Michael Stephens' blog (4th link on the FPP) explains why some librarians object to the circle-bar-cellphone signs. It is sometimes easier to just escalate to the NO-NO-NO signs when one continually deals with the give 'em an inch they'll take your desk while you aren't looking types (I run a community computer lab). I was wondering what was wrong with the screaming no-cellphone signs until I saw the "successes" on Stephens' blog. An approach that respects your clients/patrons does seem appropriate.

Related on cellphone use: a local fitness center has signs all over the locker rooms, I mean EVERYWHERE, about No Cellphone Use, Not Ever, No Way. I couldn't figure it out. I mean, it didn't seem to be out of a need for quiet. Asked Mrs. Beelz about it & she replied "duh--when was the last time you saw a cellphone without a camera?" Slap me with a mackerel.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:07 AM on April 16, 2010


My old uni library switched to having "You can use your phone here" signs in the stairwells, and "If you're leaving your phone on, set it to silent, and take your calls in the stairwells" signs. From what I saw (heard?), people are much more willing to move a behaviour than to stop it.
posted by handee at 6:14 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


stinkycheese, that experience you yearn for used to exist in my town. The main library was right across the street from the YMCA, and the overflow of would-be residents occasionally bathed in the library bathroom. I am still impressed by the ingenuity of the man who managed to wash AND rinse his rather long hair using the toilet bowl.

On the one hand, I was a bit shocked, but on the other, I thought that this was an enterprising use of public facilities and there but for the grace, etc.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:15 AM on April 16, 2010


I don't know, there's something about a one-sided conversation full of irregular pauses that I find way more irritating than an ordinary two-sided conversation. Maybe that's just me.

It's not just you. Something in my brain allows me to filter out a (quiet) conversation between two people, but if it's someone on a cell phone, my brain wants to fill in the other part of the conversation, and I end up listening even though I don't want to.
posted by rtha at 6:29 AM on April 16, 2010


We can map most library patrons in a good ole fashioned D&D Alignment Matrix. The Law/Chaos axis represents "Is aware of, follows rules" while the Good/Evil side is "Cares about behavior impacts others" So the breakdown (with examples) would be:

LG - Is aware of library rules, tries to follow them to the best of their ability, and actually gives a crap about library behavior. (Library staff. Awesome People.)
LN - Aware of rules, follows them, but won't say anything or use peer pressure when they are broken. (Long time library users. Underpaid Library staff.)
LE - Aware of rules, follows them, and will try to exploit them for own gain. These are the folks who want an exception every 5 minutes. (Most faculty. Members of library board)

NG - Aware that certain rules exist, but does not always follow them. They mean well, though. (Slightly befuddled older patrons. Digital Edge Librarians)
N - Aware of some rules, generally tries to be respectful of others. (Most patrons)
NE - Aware that rules exist, but thinks that they don't apply in their case. (University staff. City officials. Dark Side Librarians.)

CG - Does not care about rules, but just tries to be polite so it usually works out anyways. (Well behaved children. Really befuddled patrons. New library users.)
CN - Does not care about rules, unaware of how they're impacting others. (Stressed out students. Sleeping bums.)
CE - Does not care about rules, does not care about others. (Orcs. Unattended 5 year olds.)

On top of these general alignments, we have a bunch of other factions, some of which who may share an alignment with others, but will fight them to the death. For example, there are people who want their libraries to be Temples of Books and Silence and others who want it to be a Symposium of Collaboration and Learning. Both groups mean well, it's just that their ideas of the library do not always play well together.

So all the signs we see are just libraries' attempts to keep the different alignments in check and factions happy. We need to post the rules all over the place to reach out to the Unaware Neutrals and to make sure that the Lawful Evils don't run roughshod over the system (The NEs and CEs will ignore'm anyways). We need thousands of No Cellphone signs so we have something to point to when we ask someone to take their call outside. We need to be explicit about what a patron can expect from the library. The handwringing of "What story does this tell about the library??!" misses the point - the only story being told is that there are rules in place to help make sure everyone gets the maximum use out of a shared resources.

The signs are passive aggressive, because, really, we can't just post a bunch of signs saying "Be Considerate of Others or We Will Punch You in the Gob" or "You are not the Center of the Universe: Be Polite" or even a simple "Don't Be A Jerk."

I once put up a temporary sign with an arrow pointing to a cup of coffee that had been spilled all over a research workstation. It read "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things."

That sucker got pulled in about 5 minutes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:33 AM on April 16, 2010 [91 favorites]


If I had more free time, and was just a little bit more of a jerk than I am, I would so love to drive from library system to library system, testing this very widespread notion that public libraries must welcome people into the building, whatever their behaviour.

AJ Anderson, is that you?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:34 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, them librarians don't play. I almost got my head bitten off when I tried to discreetly answer my cell. But cripes, there's a lot worse (noisier) stuff going on there than people talking on cells. Whatever, I love libraries. They're like live theater sometimes.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:35 AM on April 16, 2010


gosh dangit. I was looking for a YT video I saw years ago where a college student starts up a mac laptop in the school library and the iconic startup chime breaks the silence. Hope me, internets!
posted by beelzbubba at 6:43 AM on April 16, 2010


PLEASE KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED SO BATS DO NOT COME INTO THE BUILDING is a perfectly clear, non-passive-aggressive sign. Also, hilarious.

Yep - I took this one, and it didn't strike me as passive aggressive at all. The building really is infested with bats!
posted by ryanshepard at 6:44 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


As someone who goes to my local library a couple times a week to write, I would take a hundred cellphone talkers over one under-parented screaming toddler or chatty table-mate.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:52 AM on April 16, 2010


Start-up prank. (It was windows which hurt you're searching ability.)
posted by edbles at 6:53 AM on April 16, 2010


I don't know, there's something about a one-sided conversation full of irregular pauses that I find way more irritating than an ordinary two-sided conversation. Maybe that's just me.

It's not just you: Why Mobile Phones Are Annoying.

Also just wanted to add my voice to others to say that these signs (and those on other 'passive-aggressive sign' sites) are generally not passive-aggressive. If anything, it's the person who repeatedly and deliberately ignores these signs (out of entitlement or other reasons) who is being passive-aggressive.
posted by carter at 6:54 AM on April 16, 2010


I thought a lot of those signs were not a bit passive-aggressive, and were actually unique and cute and funny. Actually, it turns out I like librarian senses of humor. And, based on the FBI signage, librarian subversiveness.
posted by bunnycup at 7:07 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


carter: "it's the person who repeatedly and deliberately ignores these signs (out of entitlement or other reasons) who is being passive-aggressive"

By the old definition of passive aggressive, yes. Passive aggressive is one of those terms that I am not sure I understand because I know the dictionary definition, and the way that it is used 95% of the time I hear it has little to no relation to that definition. I am pretty sure passive aggressive now means "pretense of politeness hiding anger" but I really don't know.
posted by idiopath at 7:08 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I think it's more the way the message is conveyed, rather than the actual message. And taken literally, it would stop people from texting, browsing the web on their smartphone, etc."

I'm going to guess that most of these policies and even the majority of the signs (the laminated ones anyways) significantly predate the widespread adoption of those features.
posted by Mitheral at 7:16 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If that impedes your conversing/snacking/general obnoxiousness, then there's probably another place that will suit you better.

I'm a librarian too. Clearly some behavior is better than other behavior in a place that is called a library, and a librarian should not have to be the behavior police.

But -- and this is going to be an unpopular opinion -- as much as the cell phone noise (etc.) grates on my nerves, I'm more afraid that the attitude "There's another place that will you suit you better" is exactly what has libraries in deep trouble these days.

Because there are places that suit many library users better -- and they're going to go to those places in droves.
posted by blucevalo at 7:21 AM on April 16, 2010


Regarding the no hats and sunglasses thing, I am pretty sure I can see a Datacard ID card printer in the background there. That would indicate that the sign is reminding people who are going to get an ID or library card photo taken that they're not allowed to wear hats or sunglasses in their pic.

--former card office slave
posted by capnsue at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


All the "one side of a conversation with empty space where the other voice should be is weird" comments are absolutely on the money. We spend our entire lives listening to discussion. Even small children watching tv are hearing discussion (or being asked to actively participate in discussion). Human brains are so conditioned to it that our reactions to the half-silence of cellphone conversations range from a low-level sense of distraction to feelings of severe discomfort at being exposed to something "unnatural" (as our brains perceive it).

If someone is using a cellphone on public trans, or someplace where everyone else is quiet, and it is clear that a lot of the people around him or her are annoyed, I will fill in the rest of the conversation out loud until they stop. I don't particularly care if they stop out of embarrassment or anger. (I would not do this if I were alone, or anywhere that felt unsafe.)

Also, wtf, guy on the bus, the rest of us don't want to know about how your doctor's appointment went! TMI, dude, TMI!
posted by tzikeh at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


None of these seem really passive aggressive to me, but then, when I was a library assistant I was always tempted to put up signs that said things like "PLEASE DON'T THROW CHANGE AT ME BECAUSE YOU'RE MAD YOU GOT A FINE" and "I AM NOT KEELY; THAT'S THE OTHER LIBRARY ASSISTANT" and "PLEASE DON'T LECTURE ME ABOUT HOW I'M PAID THROUGH YOUR TAXES BECAUSE ACTUALLY THAT'S NOT TRUE."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


(Also, library employee pedantry: not all library employees are librarians; please, people, think of the library assistants!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:00 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


As somebody who has to spend lots of time in libraries...I thought these were funny and to the point, not passive aggressive (or even aggressive). True, there are cranky librarians out there--patrons of one library I frequent have some, er, interesting stories (like being screamed at in the reading room)--but I can't disagree with warnings about food, or water, or cell phones, or whatever.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:05 AM on April 16, 2010


Because there are places that suit many library users better -- and they're going to go to those places in droves.

Really?!? I don't know of any other place that lets people have access to a huge, erm, "library", of books, for free, where people can grab a book or even a CD or DVD, bring them home for an extended period of time, and then bring them back, all without having to pull out cash or a credit card. There's no "you must be drinking a coffee to sit here", no "bathrooms for paying customers only" or so on. If you want to chat on your phone, or eat food, or encounter bats for that matter, there are plenty of other areas to do that. I mean, you're supposed to turn your cellphone off in movie theaters too, because it's a place where people are supposed to be quiet so everyone there can focus on the primary purpose of that room.

Libraries are in trouble because people are reading fewer books. That's honestly the only reason. I have a cellphone but I don't begrudge turning it off in a library.

All that being said, it would be nice at the central library in Philly if you were warned by the checkout people that it's necessary to hold onto your receipt of checked-out books because you will be stopped by a guard on the way out (I very nearly didn't hold on to my receipt, but happened to put it in one of my books) and it would also be nice if the security guard at the exit was friendlier instead of treating you as if you were deserving of distrust.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:05 AM on April 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


Passiveaggressivenotes.com has done nothing to educate the Internet-public about what passive-aggression is and is not. There is now a general perception that if it is written down, and I don't like it, it must be passive-aggressive.

I guess, compared to a punch in the neck or a stick in the eye (or a fistfull of change, PhoB! eek), the written word is pretty passive. But that is neither here nor there.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:06 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know of any other place that lets people have access to a huge, erm, "library", of books, for free, where people can grab a book or even a CD or DVD, bring them home for an extended period of time, and then bring them back, all without having to pull out cash or a credit card.

You can't bring them home for free, but Borders and Barnes&Noble have huge libraries of books that you can read for free in the store while drinking coffee, eating a brownie, and talking on the cell phone. In a luxurious armchair.
posted by callmejay at 8:14 AM on April 16, 2010


If you want to chat on your phone, or eat food, or encounter bats for that matter, there are plenty of other areas to do that. I mean, you're supposed to turn your cellphone off in movie theaters too, because it's a place where people are supposed to be quiet so everyone there can focus on the primary purpose of that room.

I don't disagree with you. As I said, cell phones grate on my nerves too.
posted by blucevalo at 8:16 AM on April 16, 2010


In my opinion, there is no public place where having a phone conversation ISN'T rude. There is a reason that we used to have phone booths. I'm not against private rooms (or train cars) where you can talk all you want (sort of like a smoking room), but I wish these signs were even more aggressive. Reading with someone talking in your ear is impossible.
posted by mike_bling at 8:16 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was a reference librarian at a city junior college and I would never do it again.
At any given time half of the patrons were there to study and the other half went to socialize and have fun. It was up to the librarian to maintain some kind of balance between the two and I always favored the silence over the noise therefore I had a lot of problems. The director had the "no signs' "anything goes" attitude - more problems for the librarian who was actually out there in the midst of the war zone while he hid in his office.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 8:20 AM on April 16, 2010


We can't leave the door open here! This is bat country!
posted by rusty at 8:23 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last semester, we had a student who refused to accept our 'We need a Student ID from you if you want to borrow a Reserve book' policy. I told her she could not use her driver's license because due to University security policy, we were not allowed to hold on to non-school issued IDs. She got all fighty and "I want to talk to the boss!" and I got that dead-eyed, supercalm look and said "I am the boss." She huffed and left.

...only to return when I was in a meeting to browbeat a student into accepting her driver's license. So I did what I have to do with all non-school IDs I come across: called the campus police so they could swing by and collect it. They did. I gave the officer a heads up that the lady was fighty and he shrugged and took it in that weird sort of campus police stride that you never know if is due to extreme laziness or some sort of Zen enlightenment.

I waited at the desk and sure enough, the patron returned. I took the book and told her that, in accordance with the University policy I explained to her previously, that I had to turn her license over to the campus police. She was, of course, displeased - she had to drive home, after all. "I told you this would happen," I said. "But I didn't expect you to do it!" she replied. She called the campus cops and they said she would have to come to them to get the ID - they wouldn't come deliver it to her. She yelled at them for a bit and then shouted "Fine! I'll come get it myself!" She stormed out and we all sighed a sigh of relief.

Well, the cops were ready for her, as I was told later. She drove up to the building where their HQ was and double parked in front of it. She stormed in and demanded her driver's license, at which point the cops asked her how she got over here so fast. "I drove!" she said, pointing back at her double parked car. "So I'm going to have to write you up for driving without a license," the cop replied. She did not take that well.

Nor did she take the ticket that was on her windshield for doubleparking well. My cop source said they could hear her expletives through the cinder-block wall.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:35 AM on April 16, 2010 [58 favorites]


And here I thought bats in the belfrey were bad.
posted by tommasz at 8:38 AM on April 16, 2010


But -- and this is going to be an unpopular opinion -- as much as the cell phone noise (etc.) grates on my nerves, I'm more afraid that the attitude "There's another place that will you suit you better" is exactly what has libraries in deep trouble these days.

Because there are places that suit many library users better -- and they're going to go to those places in droves.


That position has never made sense to me; I don't have any knowledge of library budget policy or the vagaries of municipal resource allocation, but I have a hard time believing that the library's only hope for survival in this crazy ol' world is to operate as a drop-in center. How is the utility of a library calculated anyway? The number of requests for particular services are made and met? Borrowing rates? Resource usage? The sheer number of people who come in through the door?

And also: Fuck cell phones.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:42 AM on April 16, 2010


Nor did she take the ticket that was on her windshield for doubleparking well. My cop source said they could hear her expletives through the cinder-block wall.

"Dear AskMe,

I had to get a book from the library and ended up with two tickets! How can I fight this injustice? Sorry this is so long - there's [more inside]

This post was deleted for the following reason: This really isn't going well, and seems more like a rant than a question. Consider reposting when you can follow reasonable library rules. -- jessamyn"
posted by rtha at 8:43 AM on April 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


Why does that library discriminate against bats? Is that legal?
posted by dortmunder at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2010


That position has never made sense to me; I don't have any knowledge of library budget policy or the vagaries of municipal resource allocation, but I have a hard time believing that the library's only hope for survival in this crazy ol' world is to operate as a drop-in center.

That position makes no sense to me either, but it's also not the position I'm taking.

How is the utility of a library calculated anyway?

By scared-as-rabbits city council members and state legislators looking for any quick way to cut dollars from debt-ridden budgets.
posted by blucevalo at 8:52 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm enjoying all the comments in this thread. I used to work for the public library system and also at a college library (I have a library technician diploma) and all the stereotypes about libraries were blown out of the water for me. The branch I worked at was super noisy. It didn't matter how many teenagers were booted out, there was always a new noisy group to take their place. People always hid sex books in crazy places or we'd find the no-go strips from cassettes everywhere. I wish I had jotted down a lot of those experiences.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:52 AM on April 16, 2010


Start-up prank. (It was windows which hurt you're searching ability.)

Yeah, but it was the powerbook that was the commanding chime, after the decidedly tinkly windows startup.

Reason I was looking for that was not to derail, but because that was my experience in my uni library in the time that fewer people had laptops & it seemed that they wanted you to know it by starting them up with sound. Annoying.

My problem with cellphones in public is that it has made it harder to tell who is talking on the phone and who is talking to their own special voices.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:58 AM on April 16, 2010


Sorry callmejay, but this makes me nuts:

You can't bring them home for free, but Borders and Barnes&Noble have huge libraries of books that you can read for free in the store while drinking coffee, eating a brownie, and talking on the cell phone. In a luxurious armchair.

As a former Barnes & Noble employee and current librarian, sitting around a bookstore and reading books you're not going to buy, messing up the pages and making them unsaleable is effectively stealing. We were always having to get rid of lots of merchandise--books and magazines--that were in tatters from being read in-store. If you want to read books for free, go to a library.

That said, I have no idea how public librarians do their job. It's like working at a zoo. Actually, I think I'd rather work at a zoo. At least animals are entertaining.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


As a former Barnes & Noble employee and current librarian, sitting around a bookstore and reading books you're not going to buy, messing up the pages and making them unsaleable is effectively stealing.

Is that why Barnes & Noble has all those mini-Starbucks annexes and all those comfy chairs strategically situated around the store -- to discourage the customers from "effectively stealing"?
posted by blucevalo at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


That position makes no sense to me either, but it's also not the position I'm taking.

Apologies, I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. Would you care to expand on your position? It still sounds to me like you were saying that it's in libraries best interests to condone or tolerate behavior and activity inappropriate for the library because otherwise libraries may face a reduction in patronage and the negative consequences that come with that drop, despite the fact that those patrons are abusing the resource.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:05 AM on April 16, 2010


blucevalo: No, it's so you can enjoy the reading material that you have or will presently purchase.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:05 AM on April 16, 2010


How do you distinguish between customers who are there to presently purchase and those who are there to browse and not purchase? Do those who are not going to purchase not belong in Barnes & Noble?
posted by blucevalo at 9:08 AM on April 16, 2010


Is that why Barnes & Noble has all those mini-Starbucks annexes and all those comfy chairs strategically situated around the store -- to discourage the customers from "effectively stealing"?

My guess is that B&N does that because Borders made it their SOP from day one. Sort of transformed it from the bookstore-as-library that Crown Books or Kroch & Brentanos were to the café-with-books that they all are now. MSU's main library (as I assume many now do) has a café on the main floor.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2010


I could never understand this. YOUR MOUTH IS RIGHT NEXT TO A MICROPHONE for christ's sake.

I was actually in a library, but at a computer lab that had been setup in the lobby, where the card catalog used to be. Anyway this guy was gabbing on his cellphone and talking REALLY LOUD.

I actually shushed him. It didn't do any good though, he kept talking just as loud.
Well, the cops were ready for her, as I was told later. She drove up to the building where their HQ was and double parked in front of it. She stormed in and demanded her driver's license, at which point the cops asked her how she got over here so fast. "I drove!" she said, pointing back at her double parked car. "So I'm going to have to write you up for driving without a license," the cop replied. She did not take that well.
Is that even a true story? It's kind of hard to believe. Obviously different states are different, but when I was a teenager I was pulled over when I wasn't carrying my license on me and the police were able to look me up, they didn't have a problem with it.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 AM on April 16, 2010


I favor the aggressive-aggresive approach.

DO WANT. SRSLY STFU!!1!
posted by wowbobwow at 9:22 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


wowbobwow: You know, I almost convinced our boss to buy a cell phone jammer. Apparently they're "illegal."
posted by orrnyereg at 9:24 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


It still sounds to me like you were saying that it's in libraries best interests to condone or tolerate behavior and activity inappropriate for the library because otherwise libraries may face a reduction in patronage and the negative consequences that come with that drop, despite the fact that those patrons are abusing the resource.

If that's what it sounded like, I didn't state my opinion well. What I'm saying is that the attitude that users need to go elsewhere else is something that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Libraries in general are losing users to the internet, to e-readers, to bookstores, and to other diversions. Part of that may be due to the perception that the library is a forbidding or uninviting place. I think part of my job as a librarian (I don't always do that job as well as I would like) is to make the library a less forbidding place.

LiliaNic is right that the maximum number of users need to have the maximum level of comfort in the public space, and that people who repeatedly disrupt that balance need to leave the space. But I am concerned that in general, there is a perception that a library is a "mean" or "vicious" place, which is what I think part of the point of the OP was.
posted by blucevalo at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2010


Is that even a true story? It's kind of hard to believe.

It's true - more of a lesson of contempt of cop, though. She was yelling at them over the phone and I guess they didn't take too kindly to it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:30 AM on April 16, 2010


orrnyereg: I was very tempted to buy one myself and install it secretly, but them thangs is 'spensive! Also, the EMTs would probably not like missing calls for HALP.

Also.

I am 31, and I am a very crochety person about teh youngs and noises. This is why I will be a cataloger or tech services person. It's for their sake: the patrons need to be kept safe from my ire.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:31 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Libraries in general are losing users to the internet, to e-readers, to bookstores, and to other diversions.

Library usage has been going up ever since the economy tanked.
posted by drezdn at 10:16 AM on April 16, 2010


In my opinion, there is no public place where having a phone conversation ISN'T rude.

I've never understood this. Does that mean it's rude to have a conversation with the person next to you, too? If not, what's the difference? I mean, assuming you aren't yelling into your phone (which seems to be more and more the case nowadays).
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:16 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Library usage has been going up ever since the economy tanked.

From your link:

The bad half is that funding is dwindling with state budget cuts, and libraries are being forced to serve more people with less resources. Not exactly a sustainable proposition.

So, with budget cuts and fewer resources, should libraries be shooing users away? Is that a sustainable proposition?
posted by blucevalo at 10:37 AM on April 16, 2010


Speaking as a cranky old librarian, cell phones and libraries go together like peanut butter and shards of glass. At my branch we have politely worded signs asking people to please take their calls out in the lobby away from the quiet study areas, and most people do, but every now and again The President Of The World visits and has a Very Important Conversation (which almost always includes the words "I'm at the library!") at the top of his/her lungs. The President is not pleased when staff have the nerve to ask him/her to please move to the lobby in order to avoid disturbing the other patrons who are trying to work. Who do these people think they are, inconveniencing The President like that?
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


"No hats or sunglasses"? What's up with thtat?


I wish my library had a few o those "Quiet"! signs.
posted by madajb at 10:41 AM on April 16, 2010


> I've never understood this. Does that mean it's rude to have a conversation with the person next to you, too? If not, what's the difference? I mean, assuming you aren't yelling into your phone (which seems to be more and more the case nowadays).

Many people do seem to talk louder on cell phones (maybe because they're used to using them outdoors), and there does seem to be something uniquely distracting about only hearing one half of a conversation. Two people talking about their day on the bus is a lot less annoying than one person talking about their day on the bus. YMMV.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2010


All the "one side of a conversation with empty space where the other voice should be is weird" comments are absolutely on the money.

See, I'm old enough to know that the people walking around the grocery store or standing at the bus stops having loud conversations with people who aren't there are to be considered batshit insane.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:06 AM on April 16, 2010


> I got that dead-eyed, supercalm look...

This is an instinctual response to threatening situations where neither fight nor flight are viable options.
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2010


Horace Rumpole: "3. No hats and sunglasses? WTF?"

I haven't seen this in a library, but most of the stores and all of the banks in my urban neighbourhood have these kinds of signs up. Hats, hoodies and sunglasses make it harder to identify stickup people, I've been told. How certain colours of hats are worn also can signify gang membership.

Not saying I agree with it (I don't), but I suspect that is what is going on here.

(And the person who collected those signs needs to go to the library and look up "passive aggressive.")
posted by QIbHom at 11:15 AM on April 16, 2010


Michael Stephens strikes me as the sort of former public librarian turned library school faculty who, having escaped into academia, feels free to make suggestions about how public librarians should treat their patrons based on his never, ever having to work under those conditions himself again. Being an assertive librarian and actively welcoming people into the library space, talking to them about their information needs and encouraging them to come to us with questions and concerns has nothing to do with passively allowing a few (and it is really just a few) people make the space unusable for everyone else because you're afraid to say "no" to someone. That not only makes it a better place for most of the patrons--who are much more likely to abandon the library because they can't read or surf or think because it's too damn noisy than they are because you had to shush someone's ass--but also for the staff, which may help avoid burnout cases like the one that was rude to anastasiav.

Also, robocop is bleeding has a great idea for an RPG there. Well, maybe with a very limited audience, but I'd play.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:34 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another librarian here, answering bitter-girl.com's upthread question.

So, photos in libraries. It's becoming almost as common as cell phones because cameras all come with 'em these days. Some libraries take the position that photography in libraries has the potential to undermine privacy. Why? Read on.

Ex. 1: Sally is 15, suspects she is pregnant, hasn't talked to anyone about it yet, and is reading about pregnancy at the library. Billy--accidentally or intentionally--takes an identifiable picture of her reading a book about pregnancy, posts it to Facebook. Billy's friend Diana sees the picture, tells her mom, who tells Sally's mom, and whoops! -- privacy gone. Sally expected to be able to look at some books at the library, without talking to the librarian, leaving a web browser history at home, etc., but now she may, depending on her home situation, be well and truly in trouble.

Ex. 2: Farid is an Arabic engineering student reading a book on nuclear power reactors. His friend, Burhan, takes a photo of their friend, Serina, who is sitting by Farid. Pic gets posted on Flickr, and through a series of coincidences winds up in the hands of Jack the F.B.I. agent. Will Jack look at Farid and see a student researching a term paper? Will Farid get a visit from the F.B.I., have his phone tapped, and be put on the no-fly list? Maybe, maybe not.

Ex. 3: Anne is hanging out by the computers in her local public library and photographs her friend Franco, who is playing around on Wikipedia, redirecting all the external links on the Ayn Rand entry to charitable organizations. Unbeknownst to them, Toru is setting up his new online banking account the next computer over. Anne's photo--taken at a snazzy, high-res setting--gets onto MySpace, where her nefarious friend Malfoy592 looks at the picture, blows it up to size, and suddenly has a large chunk of Toru's personal information, which he ultimately uses to fund an Etsy shopping spree of legendary proportions.

Paranoid? Overly concerned? Somebody has to be, because I can guaran-darn-tee you that plenty of library patrons don't think about these things, and the consequences of loss of privacy can be unpleasant, severe, and irreversible.


Oh, and cell phones? When you poll 'em, people seem pretty much split down the middle about whether they're good or bad in libraries. At my (academic) library, phones are allowed on floors 1 & 2, not on 3 & 4. Our fourth floor is the silent floor, and the students police it more vigorously than we're able to.
posted by cupcakeninja at 11:50 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's really rude is people talking on their cellphones at the checkout counter, while they're being helped.

My wife's a library assistant, and won't bother to offer to renew stuff for someone who's on the phone. Also when she can get away with it, she will skip over that person to the next one that *isn't* on the phone, and then say "I didn't want to interrupt your conversation" if the phone-talker complains.
posted by Foosnark at 11:56 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Libraries in general are losing users to the internet, to e-readers, to bookstores, and to other diversions.

They've been telling us that for years. However, we regularly meet (and exceed, oops) the fire capacity of our library. Students sit between the stacks to study, which becomes a problem as we have moblle shelving. Reference numbers are down, circulation numbers are down, but the number of bodies in the building keeps going up.

A few weeks ago I visited the Toronto Reference Library in the middle of the week. It was pretty busy, too.

And to all those people who say the kids these days don't talk on phones, they just text? OMG so not true. They may well text a lot too, but there always a crowd of students by the stairwells having a natter with someone. Then there are the girls who sit in a bathroom stall and have a conversation. Talk about off-putting!

We don't have policies about not using cell phones in the building, though we have silent areas and we enforce silence there. I wish we had a text-don't-talk policy, though. If you want to have a chat, I don't think the library is the place to be.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:18 PM on April 16, 2010


Michael Stephens strikes me as the sort of former public librarian turned library school faculty who, having escaped into academia, feels free to make suggestions about how public librarians should treat their patrons based on his never, ever having to work under those conditions himself again.

I think that Michael Stephens has a lot of brilliant and terrific ideas. This particular post may not have been his most expertly phrased one, but a lot of what he's written has helped me think about libraries and librarianship in unexpected ways.

His main point here is, as he puts it, that "some signs show aggression to every person who walks in the door. some signmakers simply need to present their policies in a more thoughtful manner." Which is a point that I agree with.

I also agree with your point about not letting people who are actively abusing the public space continue to occupy that space.
posted by blucevalo at 12:18 PM on April 16, 2010


They've been telling us that for years. However, we regularly meet (and exceed, oops) the fire capacity of our library. Students sit between the stacks to study, which becomes a problem as we have moblle shelving. Reference numbers are down, circulation numbers are down, but the number of bodies in the building keeps going up.

I can believe that that's the case. I wish that there were some way of knowing why there's such a disconnect between what they're telling us and what we see to be true in our day-to-day experience.
posted by blucevalo at 12:22 PM on April 16, 2010


I mean, have a chat on a phone! There are lots of places to chat, even in our academic library!
posted by Hildegarde at 12:22 PM on April 16, 2010


blucevalo, I suspect it's the reference numbers that they're watching. Access to free wifi is a really important element, but numbers daily online via the library isn't a stat people seem to brag about. Everyone seems to want these bodies in the building because they want to see us, or make use of something we bought/created. Getting what you need without asking a question or pickking up a book doesn't seem to figure in.

On the flip side, when we redesigned our website, I put a chat widget on every bloody page. And our chat reference numbers grew 500%.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:26 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The next town over, where we sometimes also go, has isolated the children's library in the basement so sound doesn't propagate but they STILL shush little children.

I wonder if I can trade that library for mine...
posted by madajb at 12:59 PM on April 16, 2010


Borders and Barnes&Noble have huge libraries of books that you can read for free in the store while drinking coffee, eating a brownie, and talking on the cell phone. In a luxurious armchair.

Actually, the main library in my town has an espresso bar and big smooshy leather armchairs. I believe they sell baked goods as well.
posted by contessa at 1:51 PM on April 16, 2010


Our library is smaller, it's basically one big open room, so sounds and odors have a way of traveling. It's so gross to be sitting there working and then being overcome by the smell of someone's hot meatball sub. Even oranges smell nasty if it's in a small space. I think most of our undergrad patrons are in the CG or CN category.

This is the response we tend to get when we ask that people not eat or use their cell phones in the library. Librarians aren't born cranky, they get that way from conditioning. (Or I did, anyway.)
posted by wowbobwow at 1:57 PM on April 16, 2010


> AJ Anderson, is that you?

Is he dressed "suspiciously" and asking questions about how to blow up houses?
posted by Decimask at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2010


> Nor did she take the ticket that was on her windshield for doubleparking well. My cop source said they could hear her expletives through the cinder-block wall

AWESOME.
posted by Decimask at 2:32 PM on April 16, 2010


> People always hid sex books in crazy places

I suspect you're actually referring to stuff like the library's copy of The Joy of Sex by people, but I also found copies of porn rags hidden in books while I was a library assistant. I was mostly surprised how tame the porn was--I mean, penthouse letters? Really?

Perhaps fortunately, I never caught the stackfapper responsible.
posted by Decimask at 2:39 PM on April 16, 2010


Libraries in general are losing users to the internet, to e-readers, to bookstores, and to other diversions.

Weirdly, this isn't happenign at all, exactly. Library usage is up up up. However, library funding is down. So, that sucks. Also the people who sell us things that we can give away for free, our vendors? They sort of think this all sucks because they are looking gor ways to make the same amount of money with their dying revenue models and so they try to make exclusive deals with database distributors to lock in some cash for themselves [because we are giving away the magazines! socialists!] which means a lot of hoop jumping for libraries. Anyhow, don't get me started.

Michael Stephens worked in public libraries for over a decade. He's got a particular angle and really he's supposed to be out on the provocative side of the debate a little. I don't think he reflects the mainstream opinion but he definitely is out on one end, and a lot of people listen to him. I think he's put in his time.

The people that concern me are more the "I'm being driven insane" people that I read about in the library_mofo group on livejournal. There you'll get not just stories about truly insane library patrons [and how people grapple with them when underfunded and undersupported] but also librarians who are sort of crazy and seem to take pleasure in letting annoying patrons know that they're in charge and they can't let the rules go just this once. I mean I get it, I really gt it. But it's one thing to tell someone in the library "no you can't have another tfive minutes on the computer" if they're being a bitch to you, it's another thing to brag about it in livejournal.

And yeah, not strictly passive aggressive many of these signs. What I find the most pitiful and the most poignant is how often they seem to be made by people with only the vaguest idea of design. Not like everyone has design beautiful usable paeans to word processing but the weird combinations of underlining, air/scare quotes, odd capitalization bizarre fake politeness and "signed, the management" stuff is enough to make me wonder sometimes.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get cc-ed on every complaint email that comes to my academic library (about 2 per week). 99.9% of them say, "I'm trying to study on the quiet floor and the asshole next to me is screaming into his fucking phone. WHY HAVE QUIET FLOORS IF NO ONE IS ENFORCING THE FUCKING RULES????"

But usually they're not that polite.

Eating and drinking is allowed, and there's a large cafe attached.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:17 PM on April 16, 2010


My partner was once at the library and a couple of library employees were talking loudly near where some people were attempting to study. A few people tried to look bothered but the loud talking kept going on. And on and on. Finally, my partner went up to them and politely said, "hey, some people are trying to study in here, maybe you could keep it down?"

One of them looked at him coldly and said, "We work here."

"Then maybe you could set a good example?" he asked.



(We're both all for quiet patrons in the library too! It was such a bizarre story, I just had to share.)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:42 PM on April 16, 2010


One of them looked at him coldly and said, "We work here."

That totally happened to me! Except at the time I was a library student studying asking library staffers to be a little quieter. They suggested that I move someplace else. And they were talking loud enough that it was clear that they were not talking about work.

Many of you probably don't know this, but when you make your first post to MeFi you have to actually check a box that says something to the effect of "I am aware that self-linking is a bannable offense and that I have nothing to do with the links I am posting to MetaFilter" This way, if you do self-link, and you do get banned, and you do complain to us [happens about 50% of the time someone winds up banned] we can mostly say "you clicked the link, what did you THINK it meant?" and not have to get into the minutia of stupid arguments about whether or not what they did was technically a self-link and fuck us anyhow and tons of people spam the site every day and they want their money back and they didn't know it was against the rules and on and on and on.

I see these library signs as a sort of frontal offense that says "hey, you SAW the sign"

Librarianship in many ways is a profession of poor boundaries. Dumb signs are but one symptom.
posted by jessamyn at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2010


I have to ask the pages to pipe down all the time. It's no good asking the patrons to be quiet if the staff can't follow the rules themselves.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:00 PM on April 16, 2010


jessamyn, WRT your comment above, I could and should amend my own comment to begin something like "I'm not familiar with Michael Stephens or his work in general, but based on his comments regarding this specific issue..." With a slightly more careful look at his background, I do think that he and I probably have a lot in common with regards to our overall philosophy of library service; however, I also think it's a bit ridiculous to ask, "think about the story these libraries are telling users" while pointing to a few specific signs. What sort of story does the EXIT sign tell our users? That we want them all to go away, forever? How about the no smoking sign? (I'm exaggerating, but just a little.) One is reminded of the story of the blind men who make definitive statements about the nature of the elephant by closely examining different parts.

And, of course, the broader context of these signs hardly has a single interpretation; what one patron might interpret as "The library doesn't understand how cool your smartphone is and what instant messaging is about" or whatever, another might read as "Yeah, you know how you're trying to work on your online job application and some butthole comes up chattering on their phone about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the library in any way, shape or form, and has absolutely no consideration for you or anyone else trying to get some work done? Yeah, we're not down with that, either." The sort of overly long requests for consideration on signs that Stephens seems to favor might avoid some of that, but what are the odds that someone who, let's be blunt here, isn't really that concerned about their fellow patrons in the first place is going to read it? This is purely anecdotal, but I used to work in a library that had one-way gates, and several times a day someone would try to walk out the nearest gate, despite the "NO EXIT" sign on it. We finally solved the problem by taping over the word "EXIT" so that the sign simply read "NO". It worked.

Regarding library_mofo... yeah, there are occasionally people that post things where the rest of the comm says, "Uh, I don't think that the patron is being the mofo here." But I really don't see a lot of people who "are sort of crazy and seem to take pleasure in letting annoying patrons know that they're in charge and they can't let the rules go just this once." Let's take a look at the last ten posts:

- patron who loses audio book, doesn't want to pay for it, suggests that the library replace it with pirated discs; follows with story about patron who admits that they screwed up the disc, and doesn't get charged

- claim return, patron bitches about having to pay for it after librarian searches for it, book mysteriously shows up in book drop two hours later

- complaint about coworker (a lot of library_mofo posts are about these), followed by complaint about patron wanting to chit-chat with worker who is covering the library solo

- rude librarian in another system

- patrons think that old joke about security alarm is funny the thousandth time

- problems with manager

- hates Cutter numbers

- bureaucracy

- patrons bang on desk bell as joke

- patron tries to appeal policy by making his case (leaving out relevant info) to a shelver

And so on. The overall impression that I get from reading library_mofo isn't that of spoiled millenials thinking of snotty things to say to patrons and deny them things, it's of people who are overworked, underpaid, not supported by management and/or their supporting institutions, and on top of all of that having to deal with patrons that are trying to game the system and/or just plain rude. These people could, by and large, be exemplars of the sort of library worker that Stephens and you are looking for, when they're not blowing off steam.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:16 PM on April 16, 2010


(So does anyone agree with me that we should do a MeFibrarian Meetup Podcast at some point? We've got dynamics here! I'll be Captain Keith!)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:59 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be down for a MeFibrarian-mostly meetup at the Billy Goat in Chicago the next time that ALA meets there; I'm not in ALA, but it's drivable for me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:14 PM on April 16, 2010


The library I work for doesn't specifically ban mobile phones so if you text or use it to log onto the free wifi we don't care but if you stand next to the counter shouting 'WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU? WHAT? YOU'RE BREAKING UP?' or insist on being one of those people who turn the volume up and hold it a foot away from your head while you shout at it, we'll ask you to take it outside*. If you're drinking your water or your coffee and nibbling on a stash of chips or bikkies we don't care. You open up a takeout container of deep fried chicken or a pot of soup as you log into the computer? We'll ask you to take it outside.

We do have signs saying "don't lift your child onto our waist high counters" and "please supervise your children".

*and if you're the kind of arsehole who uses it while being served and expect us to read your mind as you shove your card at us, we will wait patiently for you to finish before ascertaining what it is you want.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:40 PM on April 16, 2010


Weirdly, this isn't happenign at all, exactly. Library usage is up up up.

I've seen anecdotal evidence of that, and it makes sense to me that library usage would be up in these times, but I'd really like to see some data that is generalized (like nationwide, maybe?) and not just snapshots of local trends. I may not be looking in the right places, but I've not seen that data yet. But it may well be that I'm focusing too much attention on the doom-and-gloom studies that talk about the Future of Libraries and not enough on the facts on the ground.

Actually, on preview, I just saw an e-mail that linked to this ALA report that provides the hard data I was looking for. So I'll eat a little crow now and also say hooray for increased library usage.
posted by blucevalo at 10:51 PM on April 16, 2010


I've lived a *lot* of places and *rarely* ran into a librarian that was unreasonable without good reason. (Yelling at someone for taking photos of books ... no excuse for that one.) But I've heard about the ones who censor books, so I guess they're out there.

Some people *have no respect* for what other people are trying to do - and they won't get it unless they're told straight up what the rules are. You don't want to discourage literacy!

Any time you hafta deal with the public, you need the infinite patience thing. Librarians are the best. I'd never have survived my teen years without ours.
posted by Twang at 11:45 PM on April 16, 2010


like nationwide, maybe?

ALA are the people who pay for a lot of these surveys and they pointed to this Harris Poll from about a year and a half ago. Talking points
In-person visits also are up 10 percent compared with a 2006 ALA household survey. Seventy-six percent of Americans visited their local public library in the past year, compared with 65.7 percent two years ago. Online visits to libraries are up even more substantially – with 41 percent of library card holders visiting their library Web sites in the past year, compared with 23.6 percent in 2006. This finding complements the ALA’s 2008 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, which found that public libraries have significantly increased the Internet services available to their communities – including online homework help, downloadable audio and video, and e-books.
Here is ALA's report for this year, though I feel that it focuses on people's feelings about libraries less than actual stats of who is going. This IMLS report is what I would consider hard data. They've been collecting data long enough that they can now offer trend data in addition to just numbers. I've been reading this report all week looking at digital divide numbers, so it's nice that I can toss some of it in here as well. So ....
In FY 2007, total nationwide circulation of public library materials was 2.2 billion, or 7.4 materials circulated per capita; these were slight increases from the 2.1 billion total materials and 7.3 materials per capita that were circulated during FY 2006.
• The growth in per capita circulation from FY 2006 to FY 2007 was a continuation of the steady growth that has occurred since FY 2000. Per capita circulation grew from 6.4 materials per person to 7.4 materials per person from FY 2000 to FY 2007, an increase of 16 percent
• Nationwide, 49.9 million library materials were loaned by public libraries to other libraries. There was a 14 percent increase between this figure and the FY 2006 total
• Nationwide, reference transactions in public libraries totaled 292 million, or 1.0 reference transactions per capita (Table 8). This was a small decrease from the 295 million reference transactions that occurred during FY 2006.
So, reference transactions are down which I would expect, most other things are up. Googling nets this Wikipedia article which seems a lot like someone's homework assisgnemnt in addition to not being accurate [i.e. it takes studies about academic libraries and overgeneralizes them to "library use" ugh] though ALA reports on the The National Center for Education Statistics which reported that during a typical week in fiscal 2008, U.S. academic libraries had more than 20.3 million visits (1.5 million more than in fiscal 2006).

So yeah, the ALA is an advocacy group and has a vested interest in you feeling like people are going to the library more, not less. If I had my super-cynical hat on, I might say that people are mostly going because they're broke not because they're in love with the library. Additionally, libraries have that tragedy of the commons thing going on. Once everyone starts to go there, there is diminishing utility of the idea of public spaces and public resources. It's not an institution that scales gracefully. My example that doesn't point to overcrowding or bad behavior is ILL [interlibrary loan] If everyone starts using it, the system falls apart because it's expensive to maintain and very labor intensive. The system works best when it's a bit of an inside baseball secret.

And yeah Halloween Jakc, I think my read on the library_mofo group is different from yours. My take is that while there's a certain amount of blowing off steam happening, there are also people who seem to take great pleasure in recounting stories where they're passive-aggressively rude to people who don't know the rules or are being rude or what have you. I agree, the patrons are in most cases not being great themselves. Or their management folks are putting them in untenable situations.

But in my public library experience [and maybe i'm just being pollyannaish here] it's our responsibility to give people, even terrible people, a better reason for whatever we're doing than "that's just the rule" and then roll our eyes at people who can't or don't get that. I guess that's my issue with a lot of these signs. You can't explain all the policies to everyone all the time certainly, but better more humane signage goes a long way to a more dignified public space, in my opinion.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I saw the ALA report. That's why I said I'd gladly eat crow -- and also hooray for increased library usage! But thanks for the link to the IMLS report. I hadn't seen or known about that and definitely want to read it. Your comments about the reasons for increased usage are really excellent -- couldn't agree more.
posted by blucevalo at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2010


I am reminded of the time a friend called me at the main library in Pasadena, while I was in the checkout line (I had forgotten to turn off my phone). I told her, "I'm sorry, I can't talk now, I'm at the library," and got off the phone. The librarian (or library assistant), a very disagreeable fiftysomething guy with a beard, threw a fit and lectured for me for five minutes why I was disrespectful and how dare I use my cell phone in a library.

I was pretty pissed off.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:40 PM on April 18, 2010


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