Folks know I have had my issues (i.e., lawsuit) with libraries. I love books and libraries and it offends me horribly that they seem to find it “necessary” to keep out perfectly good and well-behaved patrons simply because the patrons aren’t dressed the way the library wants, and because the library buys into silly myths.
Fortunately, during all that time I had a refuge in my local, small-town library. They didn’t have the selection of the big-city libraries, but I still had access.
However, that all changed this past November.
I first used my local Pickerington Library barefoot way back in October of 1997. They didn’t have a rule against it. Our family was familiar with the librarians. Or, I should say, moreso my wife and kids were, as they had attended Storytime regularly for years. They were a small library—Pickerington is a small town/city (a suburb of Columbus). Their collection was not as vast as the one for the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which is what I mostly used, though.
As many of you know, I sued to Columbus Metropolitan Library back in April of 2001. If you are interested, here are all of the court documents.
There are some in the barefoot community who have this Pollyanna-ish view that all you have to do is be friendly, make library directors feel bad about how they are excluding you, and educate them on the myths of going barefoot. And there are those who think that the right way to do things is “a calm and measured — yet assertive — approach [that] is going to yield better results in the long run than an aggressive full frontal assault.” They say that anything beyond that, like finally resorting to filing a lawsuit is that it is “a full frontal aggressive assault, no doubt with the assumption that the adversaries were going to just curl up and die in the face of such a superior aggressor.” And they say that they “don’t think anyone even considered that with such tactics, a strong defense was very likely to be put up, not necessarily on the basis of logic and rule of law, but more so on the basis of the basic human need to remain in control when threatened.”
It is to laugh.
Yes, of course it is always best to first try a friendly course; of course it is always best to be calm and measured. And that will sometimes work. Hurray for you if it does. But it is also the case that no matter how friendly and calm you are, those in charge insist on believing their myths. It is also often the case that those in power got there by . . . exercising power. They don’t know why they ought to listen to the plebes. (It’s also often the case that patrons can be royal pains in the butts, letting their kids run around causing problems, misfiling things, etc.. It can lead to a default position of disdain to the very people they are serving.)
In the case of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, a good friend had written their director in 1997. That letter was quite friendly, calm, and measured. It was quickly dismissed by the director.
Before my lawsuit, I also wrote nice letters, to both the director and the full Board of Trustees of the library. The reply from the director was equally dismissive:
I have received your letter of November 16, 2000 requesting a change in our Library’s requirement that visitors wear shoes while in our facilities. I do not believe such a change is advisable. The authority to make such decisions has been delegated to me by the Board of Trustees of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
I did pursue things (with a nice, detailed letter) with the President of the Board of Trustees, but he just passed it back to the director (while agreeing with him):
In response to your letter of December 11, I am sorry that you felt Mr. Black’s response was inadequate.
I have investigated the issues you raise and find that I agree with Mr. Black. He has the authority to make such decisions and, in this case, I also believe he has made the correct one.
But here’s the kicker, and it illustrates just what was going on. The director asked for a legal opinion from the county prosecutor’s office. Here’s what he asked:
This gentleman has not taken “no” for an answer for about a year now. (Please reference the attached Security Incident Report and January 19th letter to the President of the Board of Trustees). Would you please draft a response for our Board President’s signature which includes the legal reasons that CML can give for requiring its customers to dress appropriately for a public place?
That’s it in a nutshell. The director really didn’t have a justification for the footwear rule. No. He just knew that going barefoot was simply inappropriate for a public place like a library. And he had the power. And he was going to exercise that power.
How would being extra friendly modify that? How would being any more calm or measured have made a difference? I sure don’t see it. Sometimes you can find library directors who aren’t wedded to that, and then friendly, calm, and measured can work great (though I suspect that works much better in much smaller libraries, maybe libraries that are more rural, or more southern, where going barefoot is more of a remembered tradition).
[By the way, I must point out that Mr. Full Frontal participated in one of my lawsuits, never once at the time pointing out that he thought the lawsuit was filed “with the assumption that the adversaries were going to just curl up and die in the face of such a superior aggressor.” He helped edit and proofread my court filings; he even wrote an affidavit to help the case.
Look, I feel bad that the lawsuit was lost. Other libraries can cite it. But Dred Scott lost, too, and many others also lost over the years until the civil rights changes starting in the 1940s. Library lawsuits could also be pursued further (since my case is only precedent in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee), but the barefooting community just does not have the resources to pursue things further.
But it is really pretty disgusting behavior to criticize me for actions and decisions that the criticizer was fully involved in, and expressed no disapproval with the methods at the time.]
Anyways, you can see a lot of the exchange with the Columbus Metropolitan Library on the Exhibits page from my lawsuit. I suspect anybody would be hard-pressed to make the case that a friendlier approach was all that was needed.
In fact, through the grapevine, I found out what other people thought about director of the Columbus Library. One person who worked for Ohionet (back then it provided internet access to libraries and other library services) told me that “Larry Black was always uniquely difficult to deal with.” And a neighbor of a friend that worked with him referred to the director as a “dictator, impossible to work with.” Again, a friendlier approach, while well-worth starting off with, depends entirely on the other side of the approach.
So, back to the Pickerington Library . . .
As I said, it was my oasis during the lawsuit(s). I certainly wasn’t going to keep patronizing the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and I certainly wasn’t going to put on footwear to do so. For a while, I got away with using one of their branch offices, but then they started looking for me. So I was left with using my much smaller, with reduced selections, local library. I have to admit it was a very nice library—just not with a huge collection.
(Let me add that our family are such bibliophiles that our house is just stacked with books, and my daughter even went on to become a librarian.)
As time went on, I did get better access to library books and services. The Pickerington Library joined a consortium and books could be shipped between the members of the consortium. However, these were all also fairly small libraries. But it was still much better.
And I also realized that the Worthington (another Columbus suburb) library was a member of the (different) consortium that the Columbus Library belonged to, and, they had no footwear rule. Yay! So now I regained access to the much larger collection and didn’t have to put on footwear. That worked for about a year, when they enacted their very own footwear rule. (Yes, they saw me in their library and decided they needed to enact the rule in response. I just stopped going there.)
In 2011, the Pickerington Library got a new director. She had been the Children’s Librarian way back when my children went to Storytime (and had worked her way up). This is a case where being friendly (and well-known) helped.
At one point there was a footwear sign put on the door. Here is is:
Now that’s the kind of library footwear sign I like to see.
Under the new director, the Board of Trustees did pass a dress code. Here it is:
Appropriate attire, including a fastened/closed shirt that is free of profanity must be worn.
It had been in effect for about a year before I even noticed that it existed. Obviously, based on my usage and long patronage at the library, it was felt by the library that having bare feet in libraries was not inappropriate attire. (I agree!!!)
But that director retired in 2015, and a new director was brought in. This new director had been a branch manager at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. But that didn’t really worry me; after all, all of the other librarians there knew me and were aware that my bare feet were appropriate attire.
But then I was stopped on November 30, 2015 by the new director himself. I did raise with him some of my issues regarding the ADA and spirituality, but he quickly brushed them aside. There was no way he would allow a barefooted patron in the library. He told me that his main worry was sanitation, saying that I or others could come into the library with athlete’s foot, and since the library had children on the floors, he just could not risk it.
He also let me know that he would eject me from the library any time I came in barefoot, and even call the police if necessary to keep me out.
Had the dress code policy changed?
No, it hadn’t.
But there was a new administrative procedure (adopted by the board) and it looked amazingly like the Eviction Procedure from the Columbus Library. There was included an “infraction type”:
Inappropriate dress, to include but not be limited to no shirts and no shoes.
I immediately wrote a letter to the whole board explaining how I’d been using the library barefoot since 1997. (You can see that letter here). See if you think it is friendly enough.)
And then . . .
But this posting is getting pretty long, so I’ll resume the story in my next post.