ELI5 Libraries edition: Library meeting room policy that omits business uses.


Libraries, the original co-working space cc-by lemasney

Libraries, the original co-working space cc-by lemasney

Explain like I’m 5: is this library meeting room policy a reasonable representation of librarianship?

(Some) policies exist in (some) NJ libraries that prevent a patron from walking in and requesting a room because of the content of the meeting, e.g. the meeting is for the purpose of conducting business (defined as the exchange of money for services).

Under this policy, co-working in the library, for instance, is prohibited.

The reason: “if we were to allow anyone in to use our facilities for any purpose, we would be overwhelmed and inundated with people who were not paying for the service. Small businesses should support themselves elsewhere”.

Agree, or disagree, and why?

Contingency case details

Public Library system, municipal, large facility with many (at least 10) open, observed as generally unused meeting rooms, all of which fit between 10-50 people. I am interested in other cases.

The conflict

I would go to this library out of mutual convenience for a quiet, neutral, clean space to work with an elderly client. I have been meeting at least twice a month for months there. Surreptitiously.

We would meet quietly, in one of the vast, empty general community spaces (e.g. gallery) on a bench, I was chased from the bench twice, so started meeting in the empty meeting rooms, from which I was chased to sign up for the room, because someone might see people in the room and assume there was a conflict with their room reservation.

I explained that in that case I would simply relocate to one of the other huge empty rooms without bothering staff or patrons with paperwork or a request. I got a rolling-eyes response. They have heard this before.

And then, I complied. Well, really, I just lied.

I gave in and went thorough the multipage form, presenting identification, reasoning and content for the meeting (meeting with a friend to discuss technology), and time required. I came away from the process with serious philosophical reservations about the policy. After several sign-ups, essentially a initial signature in subsequent visits, I still was confronted with questions and doubts about my intentions.

My generalized response was “What business is it of yours, exactly, what I talk about in a private meeting?” I was told that it was a policy driven series of questions, and that I should not be offended or concerned unless I am doing something wrong. I was very clear that I was not doing anything wrong, but still breaking policy.

Money is exchanged in the meeting for consulting work, the key element of dismissal of the request: e.g. no meetings for the purposes of business.

I argued that everyone in the library at the time is there for the purposes of productivity and that the exchange of money has little influence on the use. I am a member of the library essentially for this purpose, co-working. It is a long standing tradition, as I understand it, in libraries. Providing space to do work safely and quietly. I was told that those people were not requesting rooms. This is when I rolled my eyes.

There is no cafe there. There is a quietude policy cast over most of the floor. You walk into the 1970s upon entering. I am not saying this to disparage the library, but rather to give you a feel for the atmosphere. Lots of stacks, a few old PCs, no windows to speak of.

I go for the free wifi and the (fairly uncomfortable) chairs.

Those exist elsewhere, including other libraries (problem solved), but also in any cafe, fast food restaurant, bookstore, many parking lots, and of course, at my office. However, those are not neutral, freely available spaces. Neutrality is a gift of libraries.

At the predictive idea that those interested in the use of the library for business could easily go to a McDonalds and get exactly the same service (or demonstrably better) without signatures and with cheap coffee, I was told by the director to go do that.

And so, I will. In particular, I will quickly go to other libraries as i do now in order to have these kinds of meetings.

Librarians, please explain like I’m 5. Am I overreacting, or is this a part of the death of libraries?

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