How To Be A Good Library Patron

Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

As a librarian, I think I could be forgiven for thinking that not enough people use the library. In fact, I feel this way most of the time! However, I have my days. These are the days when I encounter that two percent of the public that does not know how to be a good library patron. This isn’t just about not damaging the books. It’s about being a good citizen in a unique public space where personal boundaries can feel a bit fuzzy.

I’m convinced that this is a lapse in education, so I’m gonna edumacate you right here and right now. If you think you’re a stellar patron, read this anyway. There is a special variety of the Dunning-Kruger effect just for public libraries, and the last thing you want is to be a statistic.

Rule 1: Ask Us, We’re Bored

Librarians live for questions. We like everything about recommending books, finding information, showing you how to use our databases, and doing deep dive local history research. We are the ultimate geeks sitting on top of a giant mountain of information treasure, and almost nobody asks us about it.

Ask us!

We can order things for you. In fact, we’re thrilled to do so. Did you know there are special ways to use Google that can get you better results? ASK US ABOUT THEM. Ask us for ESL classes, tech help, book clubs, borrowable sewing machines. If we can’t get it for you, we’ll find someone who can.

Rule 2: Tell Us About The Mess

It’s never a great day when someone dumps milk all 0ver the personal finance section. However, it’s a far worse day when the milk sits there for hours because the person who caused the problem slinks out without saying anything. We have seen it all. We get that stuff happens and we don’t judge—really. Whether it’s ketchup on a study table, gum that your kid has crammed into an outlet, or a major computer disaster that you might have perpetrated while trying to partition the drive on one of the publicly accessible computers in order to install your own secret Linux OS and do whatever, I promise you that it’s not the first time. Don’t let us find it. We usually know who does this stuff (cameras are a thing!) and you won’t impress us by keeping mum.

Rule 3: Rules Exist For A Reason

It may seem arbitrary that you can only have two hours at a computer, even if all of the other computers are free. However, there’s a reason for that rule: when you give one person extra privileges apropos of nothing, then you’re in trouble if you don’t do the same for everybody. The same goes for renewals, special software installations, and pets.

That said, we’re not made of stone. If you’re job-seeking or a student, your librarian may be willing to take that into account and give you more time on a computer or an extra renewal. See Rule 1.

Rule 4: You May Be Able To Eat…But Ask

Libraries are notorious pest magnets. Rodents and bugs just love the paper, and it’s a quiet, temperature-controlled space in an otherwise chaotic world. The only thing missing is a food source. That’s why a lot of libraries don’t let people eat while they’re hanging out. On the other hand, libraries understand that latchkey kids and students can’t exactly choose when to grab a few bites. Food is a great magnet for programs, so the real problem boils down to the fact that one or two patrons who leave the remains of their rotisserie chicken scattered all over the children’s room can mess things up for everybody. If your library has an actual cafe attached where you can pick up a bite, yahtzee! If not, you may be allowed to bring in food anyway as long as you clean up your area and don’t leave fungibles lying around. Ask!

Rule 5: That Other Patron Is None Of Your Business

It’s a busy day in the library and you’re minding your own business on one of the prized computers. Because it really is very busy, you only get an hour to check your email and do your business before you’ve got to hand off the computer to the next person. But hark! There upon the computer next to you is the signature blocky not-quite-Minecraft face of a Roblox avatar! Do you…

a. Start chastising the kid who’s using his hour to play Roblox

b. Shout, in a piercing shriek akin to the vocalization of an aggressive pod person, he’s playing Roblox!

c. Approach the librarian and alert them that someone is playing Roblox

d. Do nothing because it is not your business

If you chose d, then congratulations! You really are a great library patron. What other patrons are doing with their library privileges is none of your beeswax. I can’t overstate this. The worst possible choice is to personally take it upon yourself to become the library police and berate or attempt to shame the erstwhile offender. I have to deal with patrons who do this sometimes, and the aftermath is always far worse than whatever the original problem was. At best, everybody gets called racist/sexist/homophobic names and loses their library privileges for the day. At worst, the actual police have to come and break it up.

If you really feel that another patron is being disruptive, talk to the librarian. Porn use in the library is one of these situations. Urination on the interior library wall is another. Any function involving bodily fluids is worth reporting, really. Please do tell your librarian about actual crime as well. Go ahead and complain about noise if necessary, but remember that not all libraries are quiet libraries. If your goal is to shut up the other patron, you may be the one who gets moved, probably to a quiet study room.

Want More Rules? Read Up!

Finally, if you really want to be a fan, go read about us! Books about libraries are always a hoot ,and you’ll learn a lot about what life’s like on the other side of the desk.