In Libraries: The Bane of Barefooters, there was a comment that asked about just how much libraries actually enforce their shoe rules.
So I thought I’d say a few words about that.
I really don’t think that many librarians really care about bare feet. They are much more interested in serving the public than enforcing a rule keeping a well-behaved patron out. Administrators, however, are a different matter. All too often it seems that they revel simply in enforcing rules for rules sake.
Of course, there is also a middle ground. There can be librarians who might not care themselves, but do recognize that it is part of their official duties to enforce the rules, whatever they are. That can also be true of administrators (who generally report to a Board of Directors or Board of Trustees).
The hardest libraries to get into barefoot are the large urban ones, particularly the main branches. These places have guards, and those guards are usually stationed right at the entrance, where they have a pretty good look at anybody entering.
At the Columbus Metropolitan Library main library the guard desk was right in front. However, if you came up from their underground parking garage, there is a pillar that obscures the guards few for all but about the last 10 or 20 feet as you goes in, you are careful to choose the right path.
I made sure to choose the right path.
When doing so I was successful about 2/3 of the time. Kind of.
One time I made it past the guards but one of them must have seen me. They must also have been busy, because nobody came right after me. I went up to an obscure corner (where their legal books were) and was just sitting there reading. But they must have sent somebody out to track me down (probably with a description of me and what I was wearing). After about 10 minutes a guard found me (even with my feet hard to see underneath a table), and made me leave.
There is often less enforcement at branch libraries. Before I finally filed my lawsuit, I used one particular branch library for a very long time without anybody ever saying anything. As long as the librarians that normally worked there didn’t have a foot problem, they probably didn’t even know that the library had a rule. Even then, though, I chose a path into the stacks that went fairly close to their counter, because then the counter itself would hide what was (or wasn’t) below my knees.
However, once I filed my lawsuit all the branch locations must have been notified, because shortly after that the librarians there started calling me out when they saw me.
I’ve found these general observations to be true for quite a few libraries.
What is really annoying, though, is when the libraries make a barefoot rule just for me. I wrote a bit about that in A Feeling of Power. By my count, I have gotten four libraries that didn’t used to have a barefoot rule to enact one. I’m also pretty sure it was me because their rules went up very shortly after somebody challenged me in each library.
The reason it is so many libraries is because, since I could no longer use the Columbus Library, I was trying to find a place that would provide me with the library services that Ohio statutes encourage.
I’d used the Stark County Library for quite a while until one time a guard came up to me saying I needed to have shoes. I showed him a copy of the rules (which did not have a shoe rule). He allowed me to keep using the library; shortly after that the Board there enacted their shoe rule.
I used the Worthington Library for a while. They shared resources with the Columbus Library, so I could order a book from the Columbus Library, have it delivered to the Worthington Library, and pick it up at the latter location. Then one day a librarian challenged me. Again, I pointed out there was no rule. Again, not too long after that, their Board enacted their rule.
When I was researching my lawsuit against the Columbus Library, I often used the Columbus Law Library, located within the Franklin County Courthouse. I used that for a couple of years barefoot, without any problems whatsoever. Then, one time, I was suddenly told that I needed to have shoes on, and they pointed me to a new sign on their door of all their rules. You know it had to have been created for me.
And finally, I used the Ohio State Library for a while, getting copies of old journal articles related to bare feet. Then, one day while using the copier, I could see the librarians surreptitiously sneaking peaks at me at the copier, and again, not too long thereafter, the entire Library system had modified their online rules to include a barefoot ban.
As I’ve said before, what a feeling of power.
I shouldn’t have to point out that I was of course perfectly well-behaved in all those libraries. I did not have an offensive odor about me. I obeyed all the library rules; I took great care of the library materials I used. It is just that, I had violated their taboo, their sensibilities. So they had to stop it, because everybody knows that bare feet don’t belong in public buildings. Yeah, right.
I’d also like to address what I can hear some people thinking—well, I shouldn’t have used those libraries barefoot, because that made them create their rules. If I hadn’t put myself out there, those libraries still would not have a barefoot rule.
But that is backwards thinking. It still means that nobody could really use the library barefoot, because as soon as they tried to, that would have prompted the rule. You don’t have a civil right if that right can be removed as soon as you try to exercise it.
I don’t see any way around this. Libraries are the bastion of negative thinking about bare feet, and they do what they have to do to maintain that.
Yet you’d think that they would be the experts on doing the research to get it right.