Annoyed Librarian
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Just Who Are Libraries For?

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:

  1. the person wasn’t a city resident
  2. his taxes don’t support the library
  3. 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.



  1. everyone is wrong. that “librarian” letter is dopey. all that stuff about where someone lives *does not* affect, *has no* effect on the library mission. and you shouldn’t be looking up whether someone has a card and publicizing that info (privacy). but I think the library has the right to keep people from accessing any and all parts for special programs. we do it all the time, but patrons keep trying to enter to eat the food or sit with the children during the puppet show. we have a computer center that we open only during certain days/hours, so don’t bitch if it’s closed when you want to use it. we show movies for specific age groups – kids/teens – so keep your 40-year-old self out when we do it, and we use our public meeting rooms for staff meetings during regular hours where we enjoy cake and ice cream, and you can’t have any. so long as we let you know what we are doing, we can close the library two hours early to raise money or to shmooze with the local fancypants. or we can do it your (complaining library user’s — not you, AL, we love you) way and never try to impress the people who pay our bills and just close the library forever. stop being a dick.

  2. Ms. Pince Nez says:

    My, my! The language! One might be shocked to hear Librarians speaking thus!

  3. Strangerspeaks says:

    We might be missing the point a bit. I don’t think the comments about his lack of residency or library card are related to issues of regular library access.The fact that he does not pay to support this particular library leaves him with little ground to stand on when complaining about how that library goes about supporting itself.

  4. anonymous says:

    This has to do with standing, not access. Some people just like to whine. Too bad, so sad. Pull up your big girl panties and come back tomorrow when the library will be happy to accommodate you.

  5. I was appalled recently when I went into a public library in Norfolk, VA. I was visiting and wanted to look something up in a book that was in storage and was told I could not see the book because I didn’t have a card there. These unhelpful experiences provide negativity that libraries don’t need right now.

  6. Ms. Pince Nez says:

    trolls, they are everywhere!

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