Regular readers know I have this thing about libraries. They tend to be the one governmental function that has taken it upon themselves to deny their taxpayers access for spurious reasons: visiting barefoot. Even worse, you’d think a place dedicated to providing access to learning would make an effort to learn something themselves, but instead, when challenged, they double down.
So, here’s a short look at one library’s change in accepting bare feet.
Today I’m going to look at the Cincinnati Public Library. Most of the pictures comes from a book on its history: Free & Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 1853-2003.
The library was created in 1874, with a huge building in downtown Cincinnati. That lasted until 1955, when a new (and the present) building was constructed. Of course, during that time period, kids went barefoot all summer long. Do you think a library would keep them out?
I’ve written before about how, in Boston in 1887, the English poet Matthew Arnold visited and was struck by how egalitarian we were. Part of his proof? He visited a library’s reading room and saw a barefoot boy there reading a book:
I do not think I have been so impressed with anything else that I have seen since arriving in this country as I am now with meeting this barefooted boy in this reading-room. What a tribute to democratic institutions it is to say that instead of sending that boy out to wander alone in the streets, they permit him to come in here and excite his youthful imagination by reading such a book as the “Life of Washington!”
You can read more of that article here.
Now, in Cincinnati, one of the things they experimented with was, not only having branch locations, but having what they called “deposit stations”. Deposit stations were small bookshelves located in other public buildings, or even commercial establishments, where folks could come look at and check out books. So you’d see something like this one in (in this case) a plumbing and gas fitting store. This is from the year 1911.
[Caption from the book. Click for larger version.]
Of course you’d see barefoot kids in there. Local stores didn’t care one whit whether their visitors were barefoot.
Did they have rules against bare feet in their main buildings? Of course not. Here we can see their rules in 1906 (from the book).
Rules for Visitors of the Library.
1. It is positively forbidden to spit on the floor or on the heaters.
2. Readers must not put their feet on the furniture.
3. Visitors are not permitted to talk in the reading-rooms, except in communicating with the Attendants.
4. Readers must return all books or periodicals to the Attendant from whom they were procured.
That changed. On their website today, you can see that the Cincinnati Library’s “Standards of Library Behavior” include
Shoes and shirts are required at all times.
And did kids actually go barefoot in the main library (as opposed to deposit stations)? Sure they did. Here’s another picture.
[Caption and photo from the Library’s flickr page. Click for larger version.]
And you know what? I bet they never had an injury. And I bet there was never any disturbance caused by those bare feet.
But still, somehow, over the years, they got it put into their heads that bare feet must be banned.
And there are few things worse than a library without a sense of history.
[H/T: Bob Morton]