DEAR ABBY: I am a reference librarian at a large academic library. While I share some of "Marian the Librarian's" concerns, I couldn't help but notice that her pointers for library etiquette were comprised almost entirely of "don'ts." I am afraid her diatribe against library patrons may cause some of them not to use the library at all, for fear of committing a faux pas and incurring a librarian's wrath.
How much better it would have been had she compiled a list of library "do's" instead of library "don'ts." Example:
-- Do teach your children to use and appreciate the library.
-- Do check your library's policy on food, drink and cell phones. (Many allow drinks in covered containers, and cell phones set to silent mode or in specific areas.)
-- Do enlist the help of the reference librarian. You might be surprised what we can find for you in a short amount of time.
-- Do use your trip to the library as a learning experience. We have a saying, "Find the book for a man, and he'll have the information for only a day. Teach him to search the catalog, and he'll have information for a lifetime."
Although, like "Marian," I'm tired of the poor etiquette I see in my library, I'm equally tired of the pervasive public image of librarians as cranky, uptight and "shushing." As a librarian, my job is to help and educate patrons. "Marian's" letter made it seem as if librarians are the behavior police. -- ANTI-SHUSHER IN MIAMI
DEAR ANTI-SHUSHER: Your point about casting the message in positive, rather than negative, language is well taken. And I agree that librarians have been wrongly stereotyped. However, if librarians are forced into the position of acting like "library police," it is because their patrons are acting in a way that is destructive or disruptive. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I wish I could nail a copy of that letter to every flat surface of our library in the hope that our patrons might read it and get a clue. It has come to my attention that some librarians are unhappy that "Marian" chose to air her grievances in a forum as public as your column -- and some have even called for a letter-writing campaign to criticize Marian for telling the truth. I say, more power to her! -- NEW JERSEY LIBRARIAN
DEAR NEW JERSEY: Thanks for the warning. The following is a letter that expresses, I suspect, their real concern.
DEAR ABBY: I haven't seen such a vitriolic diatribe since librarians were told to stop pointing and get up off their "duffs" and go find the book for the customer! While libraries are free, taxpayers are the ones who support us, and if we have professionals in the field such as "Marian," we have only ourselves to admonish when our tax dollars are reduced and our libraries are closed. -- SOUTH BEND, IND., LIBRARIAN
DEAR SOUTH BEND: If libraries are closing because of lack of support or patronage, it may be because people do more and more research online at home than because librarians are overzealous in enforcing rules of common courtesy. To quote a librarian from Beverly Hills, Calif.:
"There is now a dwindling number of librarians due to retirement, downsizing, burnout and very low pay compared to other professions. That, coupled with a society that is becoming increasingly uncivil and underappreciative of a truly altruistic profession, makes me fear that the library profession is going the way of the dinosaur."