Musing Mondays: Library Etiquette


For the regular library patrons among us: do you have your own idea of what constitutes proper library etiquette? Is there anything you always try to do? Anything you hate when others do?

Because I use the reserve list a lot, one of my minor irritations is those who keep books others are waiting for past their due date. If I know other people are waiting for a book, it moves to the top of my reading stack and I try to return it when I’m done rather than wait for the due date. There’s no sense in a book sitting on someone’s end table if others are waiting for it.

But my major complaint is one that drives me nuts in a lot of other places. In the library context, it is a variation on those who talk loudly in the library. It’s those friggin’ cell phones, which I find a bane in most of public life.

First, if you refuse to turn it off, at least put it on vibrate. Second, if you insist on answering it, I don’t want to hear your conversation. I could give a rat’s ass about why you’re at the library, what you did or are doing over the weekend or other aspects of your life. Go outside with your damn phone! Finally, if you insist on being totally oblivious to everyone else in the library, if your cell phone requires you to use your “outside voice” so whomever you’re talking to can hear you, buy a new one.

As you can tell, this question hits a sore spot, one more about cell phone etiquette than library etiquette. Whenever I see someone walking through a store or sitting in a restaurant talking loudly on their cell phone, I want to rip it out of their hand and stomp on it. But if you really want to see my head explode, don’t piss me off with one of those things in one of my favorite places in the world.

To those with ears to hear, libraries are really very noisy places. On their shelves we hear the captured voices of the centuries-old conversation that makes up our civilization, or any civilization.

Timothy S. Healy, “Libraries and Learning,” The Bookmark (Spring 1990)

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