WIWDD #7 Sheriff Cliff

Posted by jlubans on November 20, 2020

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Libraries, regardless of size, have policies that at times put them at odds with clients.
Of what do I speak?
Well, there is - as illustrated - the “Shhhh Quiet” Policy. Libraries are said to be places for calm reflection and quietude needs to be enforced.
Then there are those pesky overdue fines. A nickel a day or more to punish the recalcitrant borrower who returns books late.
And, there is/was the no food and drink policy.
In my experience, our enforcement of no food and drink was one of our most problematic public relations fiascos.
While libraries are now more relaxed and forgiving about clients coming through the door with pizza boxes and super-size Slurpee’s, in my time we were far more prohibitive.
Many of us believed that allowing clients to bring in food and drink would lead to invasions of book-eating vermin, from silver fish to rats seeking out pizza crusts and left-over salami sandwiches and Oreo cookies.
And, we knew with righteous certitude that spilled Cokes on study tables would damage, irredeemably, pages of open books.
In my world of research libraries, we could, for many decades, count on clients being respectful of the printed word. They accommodated, maybe even understood the rationale for no food and drink.
Those students were taught at home and in grade school to respect books, to cherish them. There was a tacit agreement between librarians and clients; we were on the same side.
That changed starting in the 1970s onward.
Why? I have a theory which I will mention a bit further down.
In spite of a burgeoning resistance among the students, we were all the more adamant in enforcing the rules.
Our enforcement efforts were for naught. Food and drink were increasingly smuggled in.
Library staff responded with PR campaigns to convince clients of the importance of the policy. Preservation of library materials – civilization - was at stake!
The deviousness got worse.
One of my staff did a daily tour to confiscate drinks and food. This was our zealous Sheriff Cliff. He even wore a tin sheriff’s badge which he’d flash as he encountered violators in the stacks.
Usually at the end of his tour, he’d stop by my office to show me his harvest.
I wonder if he was shaming me since I was somehow derelict in my administrative duty. He would have been happy to make me a deputy in his posse.
With the exception of zealots like Sheriff Cliff, none of us wanted to be seen as a fussbudget. Many staff began to look the other way. They valued their helping image more than rule enforcer.
And there was more than a little illogical thinking in our behavior. When a client checked out a dozen books for home use did we really think they would not read the books while drinking and eating?
Worse, the library staff brought in food and drink for consumption at their desks. There they were, handling new books and preparing them for the shelves, while chowing down on a burger and fries.
One staffer sauntered daily into the building carrying a heaping breakfast plate from the student union. She’d parade through a study area to her office, wafting waffles and sausages.
WIWDD?
One thing I’d do differently, I’d confer with the policy evaders, our clients. Why were they doing this? What had changed? Did they really de-value books? I’d make library staff part of that conversation.
I imagine we’d discover that with incremental tuition increases, the clients were feeling entitled.
They and their parents were paying thousands of dollars to attend the university; yet, the library – a haven from noisy dorms for many students – refused to allow them the simple comfort of a cup of coffee and a candy bar while studying.
And, it was evident that university professors and even library staffers were no longer taking a pay cut to work on campus. With increased tuition and other sources of funding university staff were making decent wages, some very handsome ones.
Ye olde dedicated professors were fading away, replaced by academic entrepreneurs supported by an army of serfs - cheap labor teaching assistants.
Previously, when the clients thought we academics were making self-sacrifices to be on campus, we earned some intangible measure of respect. Once they realized this was no longer the case, they became less deferential.
So, the clients knew they were paying more, much more, and were damned if they would not get more for their money.
I suspect, incidentally, that student grade inflation occurred for the same reasons.
If we had spoken with clients earlier on, the coffee bars and cafeterias now prevalent in many research libraries would have happened much sooner.
Instead of fussers we’d be awesomes.
When well designed and managed coffee bars are a big plus in the overall library “experience”.
One last thing, I’d take away Sheriff Cliff’s badge.


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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

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