More: What is it about librarians?


Oelibrarian made a comment about the last entry, What is it about librarians? I’m going to answer it, and try to explain better, here.

First, many thanks to oelibrarian for providing further perspective.

What got me started was this comment in your original entry:

I am virtually militant about the no bare feet in the library issue and don’t hesitate to tell students they need to wear shoes while in the library.

Of all the various rules in a library, why pick this one out? Surely, if one was going to be militant about library rules, one would pick something like “no drugs or alcohol,” or “beverages must be in covered, spill-proof containers,” or “audible conversations conducted via cell phone or computer.” These are taken from the SUNY-New Paltz Code of Conduct. When I searched for libraries with their policies online, this was about all I could find. (I don’t know if oelibrarian is at New Paltz.)

Those latter rules actually serve a useful purpose, protecting the library’s assets or allowing the other library users to use the library for its intended purpose. A ban on bare feet does nothing but try to enforce one person’s sense of decorum on somebody else. We don’t see that with tattoos, green hair, nose piercings, beards, or any other choice of dress. Not only that, but walking barefoot exposes no more of the foot than other footwear like flip-flops. So, why does oelibrarian make such a big deal about bare feet? Why must this rule be militantly enforced?

In fact, why do libraries in general (and I must say I did not intend to particularly pick on oelibrarian here, but I was mainly using that entry as a jumping off point) ban bare feet? If anything, bare feet are much quieter and much less likely to bother other users. When it comes to going barefooted, it is hard to think of any environment that could possibly be safer than a library. Besides, bare feet are perfectly safe in a whole host of environments; most people’s fears about them are misplaced, and often based on their ignorance (because, not having tried it themselves, they project unwarranted fears).

I guess I used the “authoritarian” label because it seemed to me that a “militant” enforcement of a useless policy warranted it.

Regarding a fear of injury, in the comment, oelibrarian says:

Really, by mentioning the policy I am more compelled by making sure these kids don’t incur some kind of painful foot injury.

Really? Are you also concerned about any of the kids wearing high-heels? Because there are a whole host of injuries that occur when the heels get caught on stair risers or on the edges of rugs. High-heels also set their wearers up for osteoarthritis as they get older due to the upto 60% greater stress on the knees, and create bunions and hallux valgus. Also, research shows that shoes weaken the arches and help lead to fallen arches.

I’m still wondering about the supposed campus-wide policy of no bare feet in any of the buildings. How do you know this? Are their signs on all the buildings? (I’d appreciate it if you would check if you are not sure.) By the way, the student handbook for SUNY-New Paltz has no such rule in it (maybe the handbook for your campus does—maybe you could point that out for me).

In a comment by oelibrarian at the original entry, oelibrarian says

And I have already said earlier, my concern is more for happy and healthy feet, not imposing institutional policies, although one exists regarding shirts and shoes in campus buildings (except dorms of course and I’m sure some gym areas). We actually have lots of construction on campus, including on the front steps of the library and there are places where broken glass has not been cleaned up for weeks. It would make me unhappy if one of those kids had a painful foot injury walking past those areas.

You know what? Inside campus buildings is assuredly safer that outside, yet the (supposed) policy lets people walk barefoot outside and bans it inside. Does that really make any sense if safety is really the issue. Oh, and the studies show that it is the barefooted populations that have happy and healthy feet, not shod populations.

But, I do have to admit that I have a chip on my shoulder. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and to have libraries, libraries that not only should know better but actually have the proper information at hand in their collection to check these things out, be the foremost governmental bodies that ban bare feet hits me right where it hurts. And I have had librarians flat out lie.

When I tried to challenge the policy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, their Director wrote a letter to their legal counsel, asking for

the legal reasons that CML can give for requiring its customers to dress appropriately for a public place?

After that, they suddenly started using the reason that the policy had been created, years ago, to

safeguard the health and safety of Library patrons and maintain the fiscal integrity of the Library.

Gee, you’d think that he would have thought of that when he implemented the policy, and would not have had to ask his lawyer for a good reason.

And then, when I tried to challenge the policy at the Fairfield County District Library, the Board there

upheld its current Code of Conduct based on what they Board feels is the proper decorum for our organization.

Of course, when I challenged that further, they changed their reason. It then became

for the stated reason that it is the fiscal responsibility of the Board to reduce and eliminate any risks which may potentially produce costly liability.

Of course, they felt no need to reduce any risks associated with high-heels (and ignored the fact that they have insurance for these sorts of things, and are also statutorily immune from tort liability).

As I’ve looked around trying to get library services, I’ve had 3 different libraries that did not have any footwear policy implement one shortly after they saw me in their libraries. I didn’t bother anybody; I caused no problems. They just saw me and decided that they needed to keep me out while dressed in my preferred, non-disruptive state.

Now, maybe “authoritarian” does not apply to oelibrarian. But it surely applies to these other librarians who are more interested in ignoring true health and safety issues and are more interested in imposing their own particular sense of decorum on their visitors, rather than accepting differences that have nothing to do with running a library.

And that is why I ask “What is it about librarians?”


6 Responses to “More: What is it about librarians?”

  1. caswell Says:

    Let me start off by saying that I agree with the points that you are trying to make, and that restrictions against bare feet, such as this one, should for the most part be removed, however, in this discussion you have been somewhat confrontational, and for the most part acting angry. Oelibrarian, however, has been much more understanding of your side of the issue, and consistently tried to come to a mutual understanding, which you seem to be trying to avoid. I don’t mean to be rude, but someone undecided on this issue who read this discussion might find it hard to objectively consider the issue when one side is aggresive and attacking, while the other side is peacefully attempting to understand both points of view.

  2. Dan Says:

    caswell, if you agree with Bob’s points, then why does this library BS not make you just as “angry” as he?

    You go Bob! Give ’em hell!

  3. Bob Neinast Says:

    Well, I’m really not out to give anybody hell.

    I also didn’t think I was being particularly hard on oelibrarian. Mainly, I just used the comment on the blog to inquire further, and then also to use it as a jumping-off point for the more generalized point that many, many libraries seem to be this way.

    Actually, the discussion has managed to highlight many of the misperceptions related to bare feet, since many of the sorts of difficulties we regularly run across are replayed here in a microcosm.

    We see bare feet being singled out as some sort of hazard that needs to be addressed when other, stronger hazards are not. We see that concern suddenly changed to concern about going barefoot outside, even though the policy in question does not apply there. We see claims of a campus-wide policy, though (I just checked) it is not in the school’s student handbook (it still may be a sign posted on each campus building, but I am truly curious if that is the case, and would appreciate it if oelibrarian would check that out).

    By the way, the official library policy at oelibrarian’s library says,

    Appropriate dress is required. All library users must wear shirts. Shoes must be worn while walking in any part of the building.

    This really reinforces the idea that somehow libraries are death traps for bare feet, when, if anything, libraries are one of the safest places imaginable. (I hope oelibrarian is not militant about forcing students sitting and studying with their shoes off to put them back on, for that is not the policy—but if oelibrarian is, that would not be unusual. Many policies are conveyed, not by actually reading the policy, but by word of mouth. That is why so many people think driving barefoot is illegal.)

  4. John Yohe Says:

    I too have been confronted at my local library (see my recent essay posted at my blog if interested). I’m as stumped as you are about why librarians, usually the most liberal-minded folks I know, are so uptight about bare feet.

    My original theory was that anti-barefeet rules in libraries came from problems they’ve had in the past with homeless people hanging out there all the time, though now I’m not so sure. All the homeless people I see at least have shoes. And, as someone pointed out to me, librarians have no problem with babies crawling around on their (bare) hands and feet.

    My curiosity: on the SBL yahoo groups, I’ve seen a couple stories about private businesses taking down ‘no barefeet due to health regulations’ signs when someone wrote their management about possible litigation problems (ie they’re claiming to be doing something via a law that actually doesn’t exist). Wouldn’t the same thing apply to libraries? That is, if there are no laws against bare feet, aren’t they basing their policy on false claims about the law?


  5. James Says:

    I’ve been following your war against the library system for many years now, since SBL was known as DSS. I certainly sympathize with your plight. But I do have to play devil’s advocate just a tiny little bit, and suggest that you simply use book stores instead. True, it costs some money. But on the other hand you get a build up a library of your own, of books you know and love, to show off or even lend to friends. Plus no book store I’ve ever been in, has ever even commented about my bare feet, from Barnes & Noble, to Borders, to Books-A-Million, a new chain(?) in Cleveland. I even get smiles, and even occasionally see other people barefoot in them.

    Honestly with the proliferation of the internet, and the increasing amount of legitimate research-esque text that has been converted into digital format, and the ease of finding said text with Google, libraries are on their way out. Most are in total, utter fiscal crisis.

    Yes, there’s the argument of “but what about all the knowledge we’ll lose?”. We won’t. The internet will preserve it, and there will always be -some- libraries. Just, like any other business, as the demand for their services decrease, the number of libraries with decrease in kind, probably eventually to a single metropolitan library in each major city, plus campus library systems.

    If they are so ignorant as to disallow an obviously avid library patron such as yourself from using their service due to some archaic misconceptions, then… just let them go in peace. They’re a dying phenomenon, largely obsolete, and believe me, they know it. They’re understaffed, underfunded, and generally terrified for their jobs.

    Which brings me to another point. It’s my experience in general that employee satisfaction and morale, and harassment of barefooters, are inversely related. In stores where the employees are generally smiling and happy and like their jobs (Target, Walgreens, Subway, Dairy Queen, any video store or book store, movie theaters), I never get hassled. In stores where the employees wish their company would blow up in a nuclear holocaust (Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle to name a couple), I get hassled every single time. So… i just don’t shop there anymore.

    I would imagine most librarians in this age of the demise of libraries in general, are quite disgruntled. So they lash out at someone who is powerless to resist, in order to feel powerful and stave off the helpless, panicky, powerless feeling they are forced to live with.

    So… just shop somewhere else, man.

    We actually met on a barefoot hike many years ago outside Columbus if I recall. You seemed to be not so poor. If I can afford to use book stores, believe me, anybody can.

    Just my opinion. As they say, vote with your feet. The more patrons the library system drives off with this ridiculous prejudice, the faster they’ll lose their jobs. And good riddance, after your decade-long struggle, I say.

  6. Bob Palmer Says:

    A subset of the rules from the SUNY library link follows:

    10.Open emergency exits, except in emergency situations
    11.Interfere with library staff performing their duties.
    12.Enter the library without shoes or footwear.
    13.Audible conversations conducted via cell phone or computer. Cell phone conversations permitted in library lobby only.
    14.Pets (except for service animals)
    15.Vend, solicit, or petition in the library.
    16.Bring bicycles or use skateboards in the library.
    17.Enter the library without shoes or footwear
    18.Post or distribute materials without permission.
    19.Any other activity or conduct in violation of Federal, State and local laws, and University policies and regulations

    Note that number 12 and number 17 are identical and of course prohibit entry without footwear. It’s so important to them that they have to repeat it.

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