What a List of Rules!

This is from Hall County Public Library in their November eNewsLetter. I believe in having a code of conduct, but some of these are so over the top I thought it was a joke at first. I’ll be using this in class next semester. I’ve bolded the ones that really made my brain ooze out my ears:

From the Director

Dear Patron,

Have you ever walked in on a person bathing in a public restroom to tell them to get dressed? Have you ever called the police to help rescue a dog locked in an automobile on a hot summer day? How about calling on a six year old left alone for several hours while the parent shopped? When did you last tell someone that certain Internet pictures were not acceptable for public viewing and to stop looking? Or have you ever separated two adults from fighting? I bet you have never had a person chased into the place you worked by someone toting a pistol. Well, these are things that are part of the typical day of a library employee. You come to work prepared for anything and if lucky nothing extraordinaire happens.

When I was younger I felt the obvious was best left unsaid. I guess the first valuable lesson I learned after a few years working in the library profession was not to assume too much. I still try to live my life giving the other the benefit of the doubt even at work, though I sometimes need to consciously step back and set questions of credulity aside in order to lend plausibility to the tale I am being told: “No, Sir, that is the woman’s restroom you are using,” or “How did you pick up that purse by accident?”

Some tales are difficult to swallow but I try to accept what is being told until I discover differently since I believe every relationship deserves that starting point. And many a time truth has surprised me.

Where is this leading? We are posting our Library Code of Conduct in our various buildings so when challenged staff can point and say with conviction, “See, the rules are hanging over there.” They are not made up. It says you cannot smoke in a building or use a cell phone.  It requires you come garbed somewhat appropriately and at least wear sandals inside and not traipse about in a wet swimming garment. It says you cannot shout or play the radio loud enough that it bothers others. It informs parents not to drop off their six, seven and eight year olds and expect library staff to entertain them for five hours.  I know it is behavior one would assume is not acceptable but if not posted as ‘prohibited’ someone will challenge staff when asked to stop.

Following is the library’s code of conduct. Most of the policy was developed in response to problems that took staff time to resolve. This code is similar to that followed by many other libraries in this country. I believe the library board will need to change this policy to allow guns carried by patrons with permits, even though we have twice had patrons chase others into library buildings in this county with pistol in hand. Some people just do not know where to park their road rage.  Luckily no one was shot. And I do not expect the library board to require staff to ask if they are carrying a permit the next time it happens.

Let me know by e-mail at amixson@hallcountylibrary.org if you find a particular passage offensive.

I hope to catch you in the stacks reading. 

Adrian Mixson, Library Director

               The following actions are prohibited on library system property:

  • Distributing or posting printed materials/literature not been approved by library staff.
  • Selling and/or soliciting for money or items or services.
  • Possessing or consuming alcohol or illegal drugs or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Smoking or use of tobacco products in library buildings or on library grounds.
  • Consuming food or beverages that leave behind residue for staff to clean.
  • Sleeping.
  • Wearing clothes that reveal undergarments or inappropriate body parts.
  • Wearing swim suit garments or wet clothes.
  • Having bare feet in a library building.
  • Placing feet or legs on furniture.
  • Misusing or abusing furniture.
  • Bringing animals or pets in the library except service animals.
  • Any disruptive and disturbing noises created by persons, radios, tape players or other sound devices.
  • Intentionally damaging, destroying or stealing library property or a patron’s or staff member’s property.
  • Taking library materials into restrooms.
  • Willful concealment of library property while on library premises.
  • Playing cards or board games not provided by the library.
  • Leaving children unattended who are under the age of ten or who require supervision.
  • Leaving children or young adults (though the age of 17) on library property after closing time.
  • Leaving bags or packages unattended.
  • Changing clothes and/or bathing in restrooms.
  • Weapons of any type.
  • Engaging in disorderly conduct, fighting or challenging another to fight, or use of offensive language that is likely to provoke violence.
  • Sexual harassment of patrons or staff.
  • Indecent exposure.
  • Obscene or abusive acts and/or language.
  • Display of obscene materials.
  • Unauthorized access to non-public areas.
  • Parking automobiles on library property when the driver is not using the facility.
  • Use of cell phone in undesignated areas.
  • Taking pictures without permission.
  • Any other illegal acts or conduct in violation of Federal, State, or local law, ordinance or regulation.
What message are we sending to the public at large when such a laundry list of prohibited behaviors is distributed to everyone via the library newsletter – it seems like it would make some people never even want to venture to the library! Or make sure they were not in violation of any of the above. This is particularly interesting:
Most of the policy was developed in response to problems that took staff time to resolve. This code is similar to that followed by many other libraries in this country.
I often worry that many policies are created from one or two occurrences – that staff panic and have to create a rule in case that something happens again. Do other libraries have similar, lengthy lists of prohibited actions? Am I just super naive about how we should interact with our users?
Can I really not text quietly in the stacks (instead of reading!) and bring my own Monopoly game?

Related posts:

19 thoughts on “What a List of Rules!”

  1. Wow. You can’t play a board game if the library hasn’t provided it? REALLY? This whole letter sounds like an Unshelved comic series waiting to be penned.

    I like the “I hope to find you in the stacks reading” but when juxtaposed with the rest, it comes out flat. (And of course, it’s kind of antiquated, considering how many more things you can do at the library besides reading.)

  2. Some of the items on the list are fairly ridiculous (why the ban on cards not provided by the library?) but the manner in which they are introduced in this newsletter is worse. The intro sounds like an email you write when you’re really frustrated – but then delete and replace with something more reasonable. This director needed an editor!

  3. I emailed this to the director, and thought I’d share it here, too:

    *************

    Some of your new rules are being discussed on the web (http://tametheweb.com/2008/10/31/what-a-list-of-rules/). Some thoughts:

    Placing feet or legs on furniture – why not? And how do you NOT put your legs on a chair? Can you not lean up against a table?

    Playing cards or board games not provided by the library – why not? If someone brought in a book not owned by the library, would you make them leave? What if they play a card game on the web? What then?

    Use of cell phone in undesignated areas – Why? Most cell phones have a silent/mute feature. My cell phone accesses the web, my email, txt messaging, my to-do list, my list of books to check out from the library, etc. Why would you ban those things?

    Taking pictures without permission – you might want to look at this – http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm – it’s generally legal to take photos in public places. But more to the point, many people use cell phones to take photos of books they want to read later… events their kids attended… etc. Why block that?

    David King
    davidleeking.com – blog
    davidleeking.com/etc – videoblog

  4. I think it is more that the letter advertises the library as an unsafe place. Whereas these things may happen in a library, it is typically very rare. It is really unnecessary to harass your patrons for the smallest of infractions. It will guarantee that they will follow them, but most likely by not coming back.

  5. IMHO, a library code of conduct needs to say this:

    “Any behavior that is disruptive to library use is not allowed.”

    and not a whole lot else. Anything that’s already illegal is already covered, and if it doesn’t fit into one of those two categories, does it really make sense to ban it?

  6. In general I don’t have a problem with this list of prohibited activities. My library has a rather lengthy list as well. In my experience the cell phone rule would only apply to actually talking on the phone in the stacks. Nothing would be wrong with texting. As far as the pictures go, isn’t it a good idea to ask someone if they want their picture taken? Some people just don’t want their pictures taken. What I do have a problem with is the tone of this newsletter. The part about guns at the end is truly out of line, especially in a letter to the public.

  7. I agree with the person who wrote the newsletter on the part that anything can happen in a public library. I worked in one for long enough to realise that some people just don’t understand that a library is a place of culture and a shared public space. But these kinds of lists and the tone of the newsletter are not good PR for libraries! This makes their library look like a dangerous place that is constantly policed by angry librarians. It makes other libraries look bad like that, too.

    I wish we could count on our patrons common sense – but we can’t. And there is a limit on patience of the staff. List of rules aren’t going to change this and neither are the sings we so lovingly craft and hang in our libraries. What we need are passive ways of controlling patron behaviour. Why not put a cell phone signal blocker in the reading room? If the furniture is the problem – then why not have simple furniture that is easy to clean and repair?

    I suggest that instead of making a rule about patrons behaviour we should look into finding a way to passively change patrons behaviour or neutralize it by adapting to it ourselves.

  8. I always ask when I visit a library if I can take pictures, and commit to not taking identifiable pictures of patrons or staff. I think that’s a very reasonable regulation, honestly. (Recently in our library a patron called out another patron from secretly taking pictures of a female studying at the same table.)

    And by the way, is a library a public place, or is it a place that holds itself out to the public?

    And we have a few places in our library where using a cell phone cannot be used — despite the fact that we aggressively support the use of phones. For example, we have one room that is absolutely a dead quiet room (even if two people are alone in there, there is no talking, even if they wish to talk to one another) and using a cell phone would not be allowed. So if we have 95% permitted areas for use, and 5% “undesignated” areas, we might have such a regulation [if we had regulations :-) ]

    Pretty clearly that is a staff, and a leader, under enormous pressure and showing the strain. I don’t know the community, and experience, and staffing and support issues. Maybe worth walking in their shoes a bit. I don’t doubt that there are better ways to have communicated the issue, and it might be nice if someone reached out to help in that regard, and maybe there’s a way to see if some libraries that have faced similar circumstances can provide the benefit of their experience.

    I don’t see someone going all passive aggressive, or ignoring things. I see someone trying in what may be difficult circumstances trying to manage a problem that many of us may not have to face. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it would be interesting to learn a little bit more, and maybe, just maybe, Michael, there’s an opportunity for a well-regarded teacher and his class to get involved in the real world.

  9. I would add a list of activities that ARE allowed in the library just in case the patrons can’t come up with ones after having read that list… still, it’s quite sad and alarming that such a code of conduct appeared necessary to the librarians.

  10. It seems to me this library has more problems than a list of rules can solve. This is a library (and staff I bet) at total breaking point. Having lived through situations like those described in the rules, I can tell you it’s easy to turn to rules, rules, and more rules when you and your staff feel completely helpless in the face of a seemingly uncontrollable public. However, I can also say that rules and rules alone will not bring this library out of its current nightmare. If you’ve never worked in an urban public library, you probably read things like this newsletter and think “dude, that’s *got* to be exaggerated.” It’s not. When your staff has *had it* with being threatened, spit at and disrespected, it’s very easy to develop a list of rules that addresses every single thing that pisses you off. It takes someone with a little bit of distance from the situation to weed out the necessary rules from the silly ones and to advise a comprehensive plan for dealing with things like weapons. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to ridicule what is obviously a loud call for help from this library. Instead, perhaps we ought to be discussing why librarians have to deal with situations like those described at all.

  11. This is my local library. They only just recently opened a beautiful new branch right down the street from me. I know and respect many of the staff, including their director. Their main library is in an urban environment, but many of their branch locations are in suburban settings, though they do serve a very economically and culturally diverse community of over 175K. Hall County is facing many of the problems that MPOW (population 800K) faced/faces – economic disparities, cultural flashpoints, and the inevitable conflict that comes when a homogeneous population is suddenly faced with a large growth in population from outside of the area.

    I have worked in libraries for over a decade, and I have seen people being arrested for weapons possession and indecent exposure, customers fighting over dogs trapped in cars or access to computers, people shoving toilet paper into their sweat pants and taking it to their car, and old ladies telling me to “f” off because I wouldn’t fire the nice librarian who was only trying to help them. And those are only the things I have seen firsthand – I have heard stories from fellow librarians that are even worse.

    But these things happen everywhere, I am sorry to say. Whether working retail or teaching in schools, such stories abound. They are remembered and discussed both because of their outrageousness and their rarity. These types of events do not happen every day, and to pretend they do, and to build scary policies around them, does a disservice to the local community.

    Now let me take this in just a little bit more personal direction. My mother, who is about to turn 70 and recently lost her husband of over four decades, gets the email newsletter in which this letter appeared. She is not from this area, and she “hears things” from neighbors who have lived here their entire lives. She “hears” about gangs and crime and illegal immigrants. Mind you, she sees little of this in her daily life, but she hears about it at church and in her daily activities. So when she got this letter, she got to read that the local library, where she has gone for computer classes recently, is out of control and has resorted to posting this very lengthy list of no-no’s.

    The irony, of course, is that her local library is a quiet, friendly place staffed by caring librarians who only want to help her enjoy her library experience. Her local community, like any community yesterday or today, has some crime, has some steamy stories of wrongdoing. But there is no epidemic. There is no crisis of authority.
    Being an election year, I cannot help but think of the contrast between the two candidates. One is promising us hope and change along the lines of Reagan’s “springtime in America.” The other is offering negative attacks and fear mongering. Given the difficult economic times we now face, and the inevitable economic hardships yet to come, I would like to hope that any leader would not be touting fear and worry but would, instead, be saying “In this time of hardship, the library is here for you – a safe and inviting environment for you and your family to come and utilize our many wonderful and free resources.”

    Do bad things happen in libraries? Of course. They happen everywhere. We have (and have always had) tools to control bad behavior. But now is the time to welcome the community into our buildings with open and understanding arms. Let them bring their Dungeons and Dragons games, their Manga trading cards, or their silenced cell phones. Let them move the furniture around a bit in order to create a more usable environment. We’re there for them, not the other way around.

  12. Card playing is banned in MPOW. The kids that were playing cards were absolutely incapable of playing cards in a publicly acceptable manner. Loud voices, cussing, hitting each other…and that was on a good day. Despite constant warnings from staff that truly wanted the teens to have a good time, their inappropriate behavior drew complaints from many other patrons. To be honest? Staff and other patrons do NOT miss the card playing.

  13. I am the Director of a large regional library service in NSW, Australia, and we have just releuctantly introduced a Customer Code of Conduct (with a complementary Customer Service Charter) to articulate what customers can expect from staff and what staff expect from customers. Whilst our list is not as extensive, the intent is the same and has only been made necessary by the actions of a few customers who have displayed inappropriate behaviour.

    As employers, we have a duty of care to our staff, and as providers of public spaces and associated services, we have a duty of care to our customers. The rules contained in our Customer Code of Conduct have been established to enable staff to deal consistently with behavioural issues that have occured in our librariesin the past, and continue to occur in our libraries. The document has not been developed out of some perverse need by management to be dictatrorial and draconian, but to establish some reasonable boundaries to ensure that our libraries are welcoming, safe and enjoyable destinations where staff and public alike can go about their business wihtiout being harrassed or confronted by the acitons of others.

    So please everyone – understand that customer codes of conduct (or whatever they are referred to in your local library) have been developed to assist staff to consistently respond to the inapproriate behaviours of the vast minority for the benefit of the vast majority. Libraries are safe, trusted and popular destinations in Australia and we wnat to keep them that way!

  14. Having a code of conduct to fall back on is fine (just like you have a collection development policy to protect you from challenges), but I think it’s really important to look at what you actually hope to accomplish by posting rules. Looking at that long list of prohibitions all in one place actually makes it a lot easier to see the forest for the trees. It made me divide them into a couple of group:

    (1) Rules that people might not know already can be helpful to patrons if they’re posted in an appropriate place. E.G.
    – Taking library materials into restrooms
    – Leaving children under the age of 10 unattended
    – Smoking or use of tobacco products in library buildings or on library grounds.
    – Bringing animals or pets in the library except service animals.
    – Looking at porn on library Internet terminals

    (2) Rules that are selectively enforced, which means they’re really about something else anyway, so you undermine yourself by making them rules. E.G.
    – Sleeping
    – Wearing clothes that reveal undergarments or inappropriate body parts.
    – Changing clothes and/or bathing in restrooms.
    – Wearing swim suit garments or wet clothes (what does this library lock its doors to people without umbrellas on rainy days?)

    (3) Things people clearly know already, so posting them is merely tempting/antagonizing, Yes, people do it in the library, but not because they think it’s probably ok. They do it because they don’t care if it’s ok. Posting the rules doesn’t help. E.G.
    – Possessing or consuming illegal drugs
    – Misusing or abusing furniture.
    – Intentionally damaging, destroying or stealing library property or a patron’s or staff member’s property.
    – Any other illegal acts or conduct in violation of Federal, State, or local law, ordinance or regulation.
    – No

    (4) Rules that are fine, but would be more productive phrased in a positive way. E.G.
    – Distributing or posting printed materials/literature not been approved by library staff. (Please ask library staff if you wish to post something)
    – Consuming food or beverages that leave behind residue for staff to clean. (Please keep the library clean)
    – Parking automobiles on library property when the driver is not using the facility. (Parking is for library use only)

    I guess when I break them down like this, I think there aren’t actually that many rules that should be posted.

  15. Most of these lists are compiled by the Library Boards of Directors at the insistance of its lawyers, motivated by fears of litigation. Way back in the day, before the litigation explosion and all those law firm T.V. advertisements, these signs did not exist in public buildings. The fear instilled by the legal profession is that there are hoards of people lurking about just waiting for the chance to sue over anything at all.
    Many of the others are simply political in nature and motivation. For example, the ubiquitous “No Bare Feet” rules were developed as a response to the free-spirited (& mostly Liberal) hippie youth movement of the 60’s & 70’s, under the guise of completely non-existant “Board of Health” regulations. Others are specifically targeted to discriminate against the disadvantaged – the very people Libraries should strive to help out.
    Most Library staff are able to distinguish between patrons who are harmless or otherwise, & it should be left to their discretion whether or not someone poses a threat.

Comments are closed.