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

Public Library For Personal Use

   June 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

lockersThis isn't a new issue, but it's happen three times this week, so I thought I'd mention it: people using the library for storage.

I don't mean the library collection. I mean patrons using the friendly and easy-going atmosphere of the library as a safe place to either leave things, store things, or transfer things to someone else.

So far this week, I have been involved in the following situations:

  • A patron who routinely leaves her notebook and text books at the library. She knows we clean up each night and hold things like this at the lost-and-found at the desk, in case someone comes to claim them. She said she knows they are safe, and it's easier than her lugging it all home each night
  • A patron who emailed me important files from his home computer, because he was sending it out for service and didn't want to lose them (I won't even try to explain that he could have emailed them to himself instead of me, not to mention backing up to disk)
  • A patron who uses the library as a drop-off point: for instance, if she needs to get some documents to someone else, and they can't meet personally, she'll leave them at the desk with that person's name on them and tell the other person to pick them up at the library

It says a lot that people not only trust the library like this, but also think of us in these situations. That's being an important part of the community.

But it's also annoying, you know? The library cannot take responsibility for these items, so it worries me that people rely on good natures and good fortunes. I could understand if we had public lockers for these purposes, but we don't (then there are the stories of library lockers being used for drug deals and who knows what all).

All of these exchanges involve staff time, which is another concern. A few times a month is no big deal, but if more people routinely use the library to store their personal property, or to pass along items to other people - or worse, as daycare until their child can be picked up by someone else - this kind of thing could easily get overwhelming.

Or am I wrong? Should libraries do whatever patrons ask of us, and make it part of our mission to offer this kind of service? I fully support the idea of library as community center, so perhaps. It just seems something like this needs to be decided deliberately, and not just be some patrons getting special treatment on the sly.

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