why does library polity create such harsh policy?

Dang! Take a look at Don’t scar on the first cut from Signal vs. noise. Here are a few pull outs:

Policies are codified overreactions to unlikely-to-happen-again situations. A collective punishment for the wrong-doings of a one-off.

The problem with policies are that they compound and eventually add up to the rigidity of bureaucracy that everyone says they despise. Policies are not free. They demean the intellect of the executer (“I know this is stupid, but…”) and obsolve [sic] the ability to deal with a situation in context (“I sympathize, but…”).

I’d like to slightly change the statement “Policies are codified overreactions to unlikely-to-happen-again situations” to also say “Policies are codified overreactions to unlikely-to-happen situations.” Don’t we plan for mythical contingencies? And really, what are the chances that someone is going to spill coffee while using a computer, and what’s the worst that could happen if they did? Replacing a keyboard for $10? Is that *possible* loss of $10 worth having to tell people they can’t have a drink at the computer? Having to disappoint them, and the chore of having to babysit doesn’t seem worth it to me. I know what you’re thinking: “What about the $1200 computer at risk?” I think the chances of something spilling into a fatal location are infinitesimal.

I’m glad there’s been an increase in talk about library policy lately because I’m afraid getting libraries to give up lame policy might be harder than getting some libraries to implement some neat technology.

13 thoughts on “why does library polity create such harsh policy?”

  1. One of the best policy decisions I ever made was to ditch the No Food or Drink policy. Ripping down all those signs was one of my happiest work moments to date. To be honest, the amount of trash or spills or food related incidents has not increased any more than while the policy was in effect.

  2. Yeah, isn’t it liberating all around to get rid of bad policy! Do you allow drinks by your computers too? We have no problems with drinks in the library but have signs on the monitors telling people that drinks aren’t allowed.

  3. We do not allow drinks inthe computer lab or the classrooms for obvious reasons. Patrons are pretty good about that, but we do allow drinks by the small number of public computers we have. So far, so good.

  4. We all eat and drink in the library, staff included, since we have no other place to eat our lunches.

    My only major policy initiative is this rule: No shushing in the library!

  5. keep in mind policies also exist to keep libraries out of legal trouble, especially when technology is involved. was there a particular technology you had in mind?

  6. Well, here’s an idea- if you are going to let people bring food and drink into your library, then buy furniture with cupholders. Put napkins out. And coasters. Really.

    Generally, I don’t have a problem with policies that are genuinely intended to keep the place neat and tidy or that are intended to create an environment that is friendly to everyone. It’s how those policies are handled by staff that creates a lot of problems in my experience. For instance, you don’t have to ban boisterous behavior by teenagers; you have to ban staff who don’t deal with it effectively.

  7. The no food/drink rule drives me a little nuts, but I understand how it makes the custodial staff crazy to dig gum out of carpets, fend off ants attracted by crumbs, and pick up other people’s wrappers and bottles.

    What’s the happy medium? A better posted “rule” might be “Thank you for cleaning up after youself/disposing litter in it’s place.” Thanking people who do clear their trash, putting out more trash barrels and maybe investing in some disinfectant wipes are possible solutions.

    i eat while reading and drink at my keyboard all the time, and expect our patrons do the same at home. Do Internet Cafes worry about this issue? In the last 10 years, I have knocked over only ONE glass of lemonade, forcing me to upgrade my keyboard sooner than anticipated. The problem resulted from pushing in the keyboard tray (an acccessory most libraries don’t have!) and forgeting the cup was on the tray, not the desk surface.

    What about keyboard covers? Is anyone using them? They cost about the same as a keyboard.

    There are several companies making spillproof keyboards – $13-20 with a lifetime warranty. Anyone using those?

    Beth G, who is eating chili in between typing sentences RIGHT NOW.

  8. I like the wipes idea, Beth! In answer to your question, I think the folks who are uptight about food and drink are just generally uptight. There is a grain of truth in wanting to keep a place clean, but walk around most public libraries and my guess is that you will see a lot of dirt and stains regardless of the policies.

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