A New Library Excuse

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You may remember the effort by Matthew McNatt to get the Reddick, IL library to remove its ban on bare feet. When I blogged about it in “A Library Attempt”, I said:

I can predict what will happen. First, the board will say they need to retain their rule for reasons of “decorum”. And then, if McNatt presses further, the board will suddenly switch to an excuse about how dangerous bare feet are (while ignoring the dangers of, say, high-heels).

Well, I was right. But I was also so wrong.

Last Monday night the Reddick Library Board decided to keep their barefoot policy. You can read about it in “Library toes the line on shoe policy — Patrons will not be allowed to go barefoot”.

I was right in that they cited that bare feet were dangerous:

In addressing McNatt’s request Monday, Library Director Kathy Clair said she had called the library’s insurance carrier and was told allowing patrons to go barefoot would lead to “heightened liability exposure.”

“We know this is a litigious society,” she added.

I do question the bit about the library’s insurance carrier. The Society for Barefoot Living has amongst its members independent insurance agents, and they have never seen a policy that even mentions footwear or bare feet. I have also seen the policies for a couple of different libraries, and again I can confirm no mention of bare feet. (This is also true about business policies.) So, why would the library’s insurance carrier say it would lead to “heightened liability exposure”? I can think of two possibilities: First, the Library Director may simply be lying. I’ve had other library directors do it to me before. But more likely is that the Director did call the library’s carrier, and the two just swapped myths. By that I mean they both just assumed the answer without actually checking first. And, of course, as I mentioned before, if they were really concerned about litigation due to injury, high heels would be a real target. In regard to injuries, the Director also pulled out another non sequitur, or at least poor reasoning:

Clair further noted library staff must wear shoes, one reason being safety,in case objects — book carts in particular — fell onto staff, which has happened in other libraries with serious injuries.

Yeah? So is everybody, patrons included, required to wear steel-toed shoes? Are patrons also prohibited from wearing flip-flops in case a book falls on their foot? I didn’t think so.

I don’t think I was really wrong regarding “decorum.” That’s never the excuse for public consumption, but I’ve had enough experience with libraries to strongly suspect that that is lurking in the background.

But where I was really, really wrong was in the new excuse. I’ve never seen this one before, and it demonstrates some real originality from the library board:

Board member Jameson Campaigne pointed out he researched the subject, finding that bare feet could increase floor cleaning costs.

I’d sure like to know what sort of research he did. In looking around, I found a few sites, here (Shine from Yahoo), here (Blueagle Carpet Cleaning), and here (Michael’s Professional Carpet Cleaning; click on “Can I walk on my carpets right after it has been cleaned?”), that say that bare feet have natural oils on them that attract dirt. (Yet the second one says that same about not having stockinged feet, for the same reason.) Then there is another site (Dynamic Carpet Care) that notes that shoes also have stuff on them:

If you enjoy going barefoot, or even if you don’t, kick your shoes off at the door. Why remove your shoes? If you have a rough board that needs smoothing, you grab a sheet of sandpaper for the job. Guess what’s on the bottom of your shoes? Sand and dirt grind away at the fibers in your carpet, leading to an early death.

Take a closer look at the bottoms of those shoes and you’ll find oil, dirt and heaven only knows how many bits of leftover dog deposits. Small wonder why your carpet stubbornly refuses to come clean. Do wear slippers or socks inside. The oil from the bottom of your feet also dirties the carpet.

So this one contradicts Blueagle about stocking feet. And yet another, answers the question, “Is it true that going bare-foot will leave oils in the carpet?” by saying:

Yes, BUT shoes do far more damage than bare feet. Shoes bring in whatever the cat didn’t, along with oils from the street and particulate soil. Taking off your shoes when coming into your home is probably the easiest and best way to prolong the life of your carpet. It is also better to wear socks, but skin oils are usually removed easily. Come on guys, take those shoes off. (Emphasis added.)

And then there are others, here (A Clean & Tidy Carpet Cleaner), here, (Clean it), and here (Premium Rugs) that say:

Bare-foot or sock-foot traffic is much gentler to a rug than a hard outdoor-shoe sole (or spike heel), and leaving your outdoor shoes at the entrance to the house tracks in much less dirt.

Since they all use the exact language, I suspect it all come from some common source.

But this rather highlights how these things spread. Somebody, without actually doing real research, makes a guess of some sort, and next thing you know, it becomes the common wisdom.

It looks to me as if the oils on bare feet might help soil rugs. But so will stuff on shoes. And I think it pretty clear that shoes in general will wear down a rug quite a bit faster than bare feet.

However, of course, Board Member Campaigne was very careful not to mention overall carpet maintenance and replacement, but only cleaning costs, since that is the only item that he could use to reinforce his prejudice (and probably his gut feeling that “decorum” requires shoes).

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4 Responses to “A New Library Excuse”

  1. rob Says:

    I applaud your tenacity in trying to lift as many ‘barefoot bans’ as possible, sadly, you are working against decades of ‘educated’ myths AND the fact that most people don’t want to go barefoot. We are a groundswell within the running/hiking industry that has gained a serious toe-hold due to some determined researchers getting published and a few best-selling books rapidly exposing the issue to the general population.

    As long as they can continue to conjure plausible excuses and present them as fact, we will always lose the argument. You can’t beat guile and lying with logic, research, and honesty.

    You might try a different tack in the battle of the barefoot libraries, or suggest it to those who are directly engaged in the pursuit of opening this public forum of learning, education, and reference to the healthy lifestyle of bare-footery: Petition village hall (yeah, I’m in Illinois also, and if you aren’t a city, you’re a village) to pass a resolution to specifically recognize bare-footing as permissible in all village buildings not specifically restricted to OSHA rated protective footwear. of course, it’s a gamble that they won’t consider a ban instead. In Oswego, the library is it’s own district, separate from the village and the park district. having the town recognize that bare-footing is acceptable in their buildings would add the social (and therefore irrational) argument “If they allow it, why not you? Surely if the Village recognized the benefits, you should, too?”

    Excellent site! Thanks for your efforts.

    Rob

  2. Beach Bum Says:

    “Are patrons also prohibited from wearing flip-flops in case a book falls on their foot? I didn’t think so.”

    It would be very interesting to see what would happen if someone chose a different approach – sued them for discrimination, and then said that if they were truly consistent about safety concerns, they should ban all flip flops and sandals for both customers and employees. Then they would also agree to the barefoot ban as well. Can you imagine what would happen if they did ban all open shoes? How quickly would the library be almost empty? Can you imagine the arguments that would start? Would be a very interesting social experiment. It would hit the national news within a couple of days.
    And they fail the see the hypocrisy of the ‘decorum’ part – look how thin and minimal some flip flops are, especially women’s. The strap can be just 1/4″ wide, the sole so thin you barely see it. And some have transparent straps. Yet that is enough for ‘decorum’. (Does any person born after a certain time even know what that word means? Bet most young people never heard the word.)
    And finally, this would be an interesting experiment. Have two couples come into the library at the same time. One couple would be dressed in conservative business attire, well groomed, clean-cut, with clean bare feet. The other couple should come in wearing old dirty and torn clothing that barely overs their bodies, messy dirty hair that was not washed in a week, dirty feet in old dirty beat up flip flops. Lots of tattoos and piercings. And the shirts would have something controversial written on them. Let’s see who they kick out. Would they kick both couples out, or only the barefoot ones?

  3. mandy Says:

    We all take our shoes and socks off when we get home. Unfortunately its too cold here to go barefoot all year round,so we do have to put slippers on when its cold.

  4. A New Library Excuse | Living Barefoot Says:

    […] A New Library Excuse: “ […]

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