Someone allegedly from the library in question commented on my Public Libraries and Private Parties post from a few weeks ago. Part of the comment clarifies the facts, and part, well, I’ll let you see for yourself. Here’s the comment:
As an employee of the library in question, I would just like to say this: the aggravated patron’s story was somewhat skewed, as he stated he was told to leave the library, when in reality, he only had to leave a particular section of the library that was being used to set up for the event. This patron was not a resident of St. Louis city, and therefore his property taxes don’t directly fund the library. In addition, it turns out said patron does not even hold a library card with St. Louis Public.
I’m pretty sure I found an online notice that the library was in fact being closed for a private event, although it’s certainly possible this person was only being asked to leave a specific section of the library, at least until the party started.
The rest seems one of the more unlibrarian sort comments I’ve seen coming from someone working in a library. In addition to clarifying the details, there are three other facts that are supposedly relevant:
- the person wasn’t a city resident
- his taxes don’t support the library
- he didn’t have a library card for the library
My question is whether any of this is relevant. Just who are libraries for?
I guess I was under the impression that libraries were public spaces for whoever wandered into them, at least as long as those people weren’t causing a nuisance.
Sure, people without cards can’t check out books, but otherwise what difference does it make? In many libraries, you don’t have to be a resident to get a card as long as you pay a fee, so residency and taxes as such shouldn’t matter.
If someone wandered into a library and asked a question at the reference desk, would the reference librarians ask for a library card or proof of residence?
So does it really matter if the person using a public library to study didn’t have a library card for that library? Does that mean it was okay to throw them out of the library even if they weren’t disturbing anyone?
The answer to the question of who a library is for might be a definitive one for librarians. (And the employee of the library quoted above might not be a librarian as such.) While numerous libraries are exclusive, public libraries are for the public. Requiring fees and cards to check out books is to protect the materials and provide adequate funding for the library, not to put up a barrier to use.
It seems to me that most librarians would say public libraries are for the use of whatever members of the public come into them.
Or are public libraries for the exclusive use of the people who happen to fund them in one way or another, with other people not being welcome?
Or is there some middle ground, where libraries are public space for everyone until they annoy us somehow, like complaining publicly when we push them out of the public space for a private party?
Just who are libraries for? I’ll let you decide.