If You Love Something

This post is the result of two things: MPOW’s recent recantation of our food and drink policy and a conversation I had a couple of days later with a long time staff member which left me irritated, frustrated, and sad. Some of our staff have been very hostile towards our recent change in policy, using some faulty arguments that were present even with the old policy in place.

I have stated previously that my library getting rid of our unenforceable food and drink policy is good because we have to treat our users like adults and allow them to use our space as they define it. (Within reason, of course. I am not advocating free love in the stacks or things that are illegal, however fun they might seem) At this moment, I am going to focus on the issue of space.

Libraries tend to get caught up in what our space means. Is it books? Computers? Information? Starbucks? But we are missing a critical point when we, librarians and those invested in the library, start this discussion. Librarians may create the space, with the help of architects, builders, and decorators, but we do not define the space nor do we own the space.

It does not belong to us. Libraries are not for librarians and they are not for books. Those two things are merely cogs in the machine. Libraries are for people and the people that fill our spaces and our stacks define what the building will be used for and what the building means. A nice building with open areas does lend itself to studying, reading, and meeting up with peers, but does an empty space hold the same definition as a space pulsing with the life of its users? I do not think it does.

Librarians act on the belief that this building, this library, somehow belongs to us and the information. We make policies and rules based on this assumption. No food. No drinks. No cell phones. No talking. No nothing, go away! These policies are not made for our users; they are made for us. Our users should drive all of our policies. Our users should be the ones to define our spaces. It does not make sense to people that they can not bring coffee into the library when they want to study or bring a snack into our study areas when they plan on being here for hours. When was the last time you sat in one place, with no food or drink for hours on end? I would venture to say almost never and if you did have this experience, you were probably not very comfortable.

I rarely visited the library on my alma mater, Texas A&M, except to grab what I needed and leave, because I need to be able to munch and wander, two things not encouraged by the policies.

If you love something, let it go. Librarians love libraries and we love our patrons. We should respect our patrons enough to realize that they own our space. They define our space. They drive our policies. Their needs drive our services. We are here to serve them, not be their parents and say, “Because I said so, that’s why.”

–Jane, just let it go