We all know I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with libraries. I’ve always been an avid reader and user of libraries.
On the other hand, I’m quite frustrated by the fact that so many libraries thoughtlessly consider it a duty to enact shoe rules.
Libraries are among the very few governmental bodies that have shoe rules. (The other main one is transit systems.) The thing is, a library is probably the safest public building possible when it comes to going barefoot. It’s not like a grocery store, in which various items can fall on the floor and at least give the appearance of danger. There is really no reason for a shoe rule except that it appears to be nothing more than an administrator exercising arbitrary authority.
And they really ought to know better. These are well-educated people. Even worse, they are in the knowledge business. They have at their fingertips all they need to do the research to find out that there is no need for any barefoot rule.
But they never (or rarely) do.
Many years ago (probably around ten) I first put together a list of library shoe rules. You can see my latest version of it here. Even this is pretty old (I’ve been negligent in keeping it updated—that’s a lot of work.) What I did to make it was do various searches to try to find library codes of conduct, and then see if they had a barefoot rule in that code of conduct.
What I found was that approximately 2/3 of the libraries in the U.S. had a shoe rule (at least of those who put their rules on the web).
Just the other day, I decided to do an update just for the state of Ohio, and to do it thoroughly. In this case, I worked from the list from the State Library of Ohio of Ohio Public Library Web Sites.
First, a word on my methodology. My new Ohio list includes all websites, whether they included library policies or not. That way you can tell I’m not missing anybody. When I went to a website, I looked under “About Us” or “Library Info”, since that is almost always where library policies are located. Occasionally they’ll be under “Board of Trustees” instead. I also checked their “Site Map”, if they had one. In the end, if necessary, I did a site-specific Google search for policies or codes of conduct or behavior.
I checked 236 libraries. Of those, 135 did not have their code of conduct online. Of those 135, many just didn’t put any policies online, but there were quite a few who had some policies but not a code of conduct.
That left 101 with codes of conduct (kind of). Sometimes in this latest search, I’d find that a library didn’t have their policies online, even though they did have them online when I had checked before. In that case, I went with the older information.
Even then, there were a few tricky cases. What does it mean when a Code of Conduct says: “We ask that proper behavior be exhibited while visiting”? Who knows whether they’d eject a barefooted patron. Nonetheless, I included those as “no shoe rule” (while noting it).
So, of the 101 libraries with online codes of conduct, 80 of them had a shoe rule, and 21 didn’t. That’s while libraries are the bane of the barefooter.
The other interesting (“interesting” as in “grumble, grumble, grumble”) thing I saw looking at their shoe rules is how they really don’t have any idea why they need it.
We often hear the “safety” excuse, yet we see rules such as
Shirts and footwear (other than cleats) must be worn at all times in the Library.
So, if you wear flip-flops and slip them off for a second while sitting perfectly safely in a chair, you are violating the rule. (At the Columbus Metropolitan Library I actually had a guard make me put them back on, again citing safety.) It makes no sense at all.
Here’s one that drives me nuts (from the Cleveland Public Library):
Entering library facilities with bare feet or without a shirt, or being otherwise attired so as to create a threat to health or safety or disrupt other patrons’ use of the library facilities.
It’s a fantasy. There is no threat to health or safety, and the idea that bare feet could disrupt other patrons’ use of the facilities is ridiculous. (For instance, if we are barefoot in a grocery store, which many of us do all the time, it never manages to disrupt the other shoppers.)
Or, here is Marysville’s policy:
Shirt and shoes required at all times due to health reasons.
Who died and left libraries in charge of health? Isn’t that a Health Department’s job? Wouldn’t they be the ones to really know health problems. Of course, and Health Departments don’t regulate bare feet, for good reason.
And I love this one, from Tuscawaras:
Individuals must dress in a manner appropriate to a public place. This includes, but is not limited to, wearing a shirt and shoes.
Yes, now libraries get to decide what manner of dress is appropriate to a public place. What about green hair, tattoos, lip studs? Is that now within their providence?
There was even one policy that listed their shoe rule under “Health and Hygiene”. As if hygiene has anything to do with it. Don’t these people know how to do research? I thought that was their jobs.
One final note. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been going barefoot to my local library for a very long time. They’ve never given me any trouble. In fact, I wrote a bit about that in My Library has a new Shoe Sign.
In this search, I discovered that my library revised their code of conduct just about a year ago, and it was now online. They added a dress code:
Appropriate attire, including a fastened/closed shirt that is free of profanity must be worn.
Hmmm. It looks like they carefully wrote that so as not to exclude me.
And for that I am quite grateful.