Contrary to popular belief, public libraries are not on the decline in America. Every day over 120,000 libraries open their doors to present the world with shelves upon shelves of books in glorious Dewey Decimal System order.
Few people realize that once you’re among those shelves, there’s a certain protocol you should follow to maintain a solid system of communication between librarians and patrons. Here are seven things you shouldn’t bother librarians with when in a library:
1. Asking them to do your research for you
If you are in the library to do research, remember that it is your responsibility to do research. Librarians will often be happy to help if you’re struggling to find sources that contain information about a specific topic or if you’re having difficulty locating a book that isn’t where it should be. But asking a librarian to come up with a list of sources you can use or—worse yet, your topic—crosses a line. Either come prepared with a list of titles to collect or have a working knowledge of the subject so you’re able to ask more specific questions, like “What’s the name of the author who wrote that book that challenged agricultural practices in the early 1960s?” (Rachel Carson) instead of “Can you find a book on plants for me?” (No). We’re here to offer project help, not project completion.
2. Expecting the library to be the Town Hall
Sure, the police station may be downstairs and the sign announcing borough news may be out front, but does that mean the library is the epicenter of town happenings and the librarians are formidable gossipers harboring the local news? They are not, and they should not be counted on to manage information regarding town meetings, building projects, or how to file a complaint against your neighbor. Though libraries commonly have important documents for municipality residents, such as voting registration forms and calendars of town activities, libraries act more as a social and learning center for the area than an administrative building. So next time you have a parking ticket, remember that the library is not the place to go—we’ll gladly take your money, but don’t expect your violation to be cleared.
3. Trying to check out items that cannot be checked out
See that handy little label on the spine that says ‘Reference’? That’s your first indication that the item you are holding should not follow you home but instead stay on the podium it’s chained to. Most of the time, books that cannot be taken out of the library will be clearly labeled—maybe doubly so if they are holiday or children’s books. Some books may be able to be checked out, but only for a certain, shortened period of time. Check the book and the area where it’s shelved for any ‘rules’ about its ability to be taken out. A general rule of thumb: dictionaries, encyclopedias, journals, newspapers, and older books that are considered artifacts cannot be checked out.
4. Trying to reshelve your own books
While it’s kind of you to want to return your own books to the shelves, the book drop and reshelving trucks are there for a reason. Putting back your own materials tends to end in chaos most of the time—books are more likely to be missing when other patrons go to find them, and eventually librarians need to spend time finding the misplaced items. Leave shelving to the librarians, who have a better knowledge of what belongs where will be able to better help you locate materials in the future.
5. Leaving your children alone
This is a no-no everywhere else in the world, so why shouldn’t it apply to the library, too? Libraries are generally very child-friendly places, so there are plenty of activities for children to do—reading, playing on the computers, doing crafts, or attending story times and camps. But it’s important for parents to note that books are quite child-sensitive, and if left alone unoccupied for too long, many children have a tendency to pull books off the shelves and leave them on the floor, dirty or tear them, or disturb other patrons. Parents should make going to the library an adventure for the children, not just give them an opportunity to mess up a space that is not their own home. It is unfair to the other patrons and librarians if they have to sidestep your kids and babysit for you.
6. Going out with a bang
While not all libraries follow the “silence is golden” policy, it’s better to assume that you should be quiet enough to respect the other patrons and library employees. Making a short phone call is usually acceptable, but longer calls should be taken outside the library. Additionally, please try to keep your messes to a minimum. All too commonly people leave books lying about, their unwanted papers on the printers, and their personal belongings to ‘reserve’ a spot for extended periods of time. Librarians are constantly making sure everything is in its proper place, so it is greatly appreciated when you leave the library cleaner than you found it.
7. Asking where things are located
Librarians are always happy to help you find things, but answering obvious questions all day is time consuming and tedious. Normally, a quick walk around the library or simply going there frequently will acquaint you with the location of adult books, children’s books, DVDs and the like. When in doubt, keep in mind that children’s and adult books serve as the two larger ‘categories’ under which fiction, nonfiction, biographies, movies, magazines, and perhaps even music, poetry, reference, and series are separated. Numbers on the spine labels indicate nonfiction, shelved in numerical order, while letters indicate fiction books, which are shelved alphabetically by the author’s last name. As evidenced by the legendary Dewey Decimal System and notorious old-school card catalogues, libraries are largely based on order and organization. Everything has its place, and for the most part, that place can be counted on to be labeled and clearly identifiable. Try looking up at shelf ‘headings’ and signs or down at the labels on the books to get a feel of what is located where before asking a librarian for help.
Want to avoid making librarians’ jobs more complicated and make your experience at the library more enjoyable? A simple solution is employing your common sense and observation skills and embracing the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of books all on your own.