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

Free Books, not Free Hugs

   November 2nd, 2010

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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10 Responses to “Free Books, not Free Hugs”

  1. Lichen Says:

    It’s a sad state when it’s okay to say nasty things in the name of politics, but we call the cops on the Free Hugs guy.

  2. Mary Jo Finch Says:

    Did you at least give him a hug before you sent him away?

  3. ellie Says:

    Obviously public response is likely to be different depending on a number of factors, but this just reminded me of:



  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    I know, right? And here’s an odd coincidence: a little while later, some high school kids came in saying they have to preform a “social experiment” as part of their sociology class. This happens every year, and usually they just walk around in a chicken costume or something, to see how people react to out-of-the-ordinary situations.

    This year’s kids wanted to put coats on every chair in the building, to see how people would react when there was nowhere to sit down. As much as I like social experiments, I had to tell them no this time, because that would have interfered with peoples’ library use.

  5. Twitter Trackbacks for Swiss Army Librarian » Free Books, not Free Hugs :: Brian Herzog [swissarmylibrarian.net] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] Swiss Army Librarian » Free Books, not Free Hugs :: Brian Herzog swissarmylibrarian.net/2010/11/02/free-books-not-free-hugs – view page – cached Swiss Army Librarian is a blog by Brian Herzog mostly about library and technology issues relating to public libraries Tweets about this link […]

  6. Gamer Librarian Says:

    It sounds like an anime convention. People with Free Hugs signs are very common (and occasionally lead to congestion in the halls).

  7. Jen Says:

    I work in a university campus library. We occasionally have students who do this on campus. I am not fond of strangers touching me and it bothers me when they start commenting in a negative way when I refuse the hug. I don’t mind them giving out hugs to people who want one but I do mind being insulted when I choose to not participate. I don’t call the police though, it’s easy enough to keep on walking by them.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jen: I get you, and I don’t think you should feel bad at all for not participating. I like the idea of “Free Hugs” because it encourages openness and friendliness, but if the free hugs people cross the line and try to force something on you, then it’s counter to the point. Perhaps you could carry a “Free Germs” sign with you and see how they feel about physical contact then.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    Oh, maybe this accounts for everyone’s trepidation: Beware Hugger Muggers

  10. Jen Says:

    LOL @ “Free Germs” 🙂