or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Free Books, not Free Hugs

   November 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Free HugsYesterday afternoon, patrons suddenly started asking our Circulation staff why there was a man on our front steps holding a "Free Hugs" sign.

This was news to us, and since there were also a couple complaints, our Head of Circulation walked out and told the man that he can't do that on library property. The man, very nicely and politely, said okay and left.

It was a little strange, and got us thinking - why can't he do that? Our first thought was that it violated our "no soliciting" policy - but technically he was giving out hugs, not asking for them. We couldn't come up with a hard and fast rule that he was breaking, other than it was creeping out patrons and affecting their library use - which does violate our Appropriate Library Behavior policy.

But come on, hugs? I know libraries are open public buildings, and we need to make sure everyone feels comfortable using them. But when the free hugs guy gets banned, maybe dialing back the fear and restoring sanity isn't a bad idea.

But it gets better - a few hours later I saw this tweet:

All the news that's fit to tweet

Apparently he went from the library to the Town Center, where loads of people were out holding campaign signs (loitering?) - and someone called the cops on him for his "Free Hugs" sign.



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More Policy Updating

   April 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

cellphonebooth.jpgIn addition to updating our Circulation policy, we also recently revised a few different areas of our Library Use policy.

For the last ten months or so, we've had a trial period of not enforcing our "No Cell Phones" policy, to see how much of a problem it was. During that time, we learned two things:

  1. Cell phones aren't the problem: loud ringers and loud talking are
  2. People who do get a call are usually pretty good about removing themselves to a quieter area to speak, without us asking them to

Since two people sitting at a table having an overly-loud conversation is just as disruptive as someone having an overly-loud cell phone conversation, we wanted to reword our policy to permit non-disruptive use. Our goals were:

  • Promote behavior that is courteous to other patrons
  • Provide areas and circumstances where cell phone use is allowed
  • Use wording that does not target a specific technology, so it doesn't get outdated as technology evolves

So in the end, we went from this:

Cellular phones may not be used inside library buildings.

to this:

Mobile devices such as cellular phones and hand-held computers should be set to "silent" mode. Use of a mobile device in the library should be brief and quiet. Out of respect to other library patrons, prolonged conversations should be moved to a less public area, such as the foyer, the courtyard or the parking lot.

Wordier, I know, but hopefully clear and more in line with modern patron needs (though still a bit short of a cell phone lounge).

For our Food and Drink policy, we wanted to change it to permit drinks in covered containers, so we went from this:

Food and/or drink are not permitted.

to this:

Food is permitted only in the meeting room during special events and in the outdoor seating areas. Food is not permitted in any other public area of the library. Drinks are allowed throughout the building, but only in covered containers. Care must be taken to avoid spills, and patrons should notify staff if any spills occur. Beverages and waste should be disposed of properly and containers should be recycled whenever possible.

And we expanded our Smoking Policy from this:

Smoking is not allowed.

to this:

The use of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages are not allowed.

Funny how specific you have to be when writing policies. "The use of" was added at the last minute, because without it, we realized the policy forbid people from even having cigarettes in their purse, and Library staff is certainly not going to be checking bags.

We had input from our Board of Trustees on these changes, so although they won't be officially approved until their May meeting, we've already got them posted on our website.

A patron may never notice something like this, but hopefully it'll go a long way towards making everyone's (patrons and staff) library experience better.



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