Public Library Etiquette

Woman studying at the library. ML Harris/Getty Images

There aren't many quiet places left in this world, and there certainly aren't many things that cost less than a cup of coffee. Libraries are some of the most valuable free resources we still have, so please take some time to learn what you should or shouldn't do in libraries.

Here are 10 basic tips for how you should act in a library:

  1. Obey posted rules. Most libraries have signs on or near the front door stating that particular facility's policy. Read it, commit it to memory, and obey. Doing otherwise can get you an escorted trip to the exit. Some of these rules might include expected attire, no food, no drink, and no loud noises.
  1. Turn off your phone. Okay, you don't have to turn it off, in case there's an emergency at home, but at least put it on silent/vibrate. And if someone calls you, go outside and answer it or if you miss it return the call. Talking on your cell phone in a public venue—particularly a place where people are studying or doing research and need to concentrate—is rude and self-centered.
  2. Keep the noise down. You don't have to talk in whispers anymore, but you should use your indoor voice. That doesn't mean shouting to someone on the other side of the building. Wait until you are close enough to speak softly and still be heard.

  3. Don't get romantic. The library is a wonderful date place, but that doesn't make it okay to make out or engage in big public displays of affection. Sure, I've seen movies where the hero and heroine steal a kiss at the end of the quantum physics (539 in the Dewey decimal system?) aisle, but if you're not Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Vera Miles, or Beth Daly, take the romance somewhere else.
  1. Don't hog the equipment. If you are in the library during a slow time, and there are more computers than people who need them, use it as long as you are allowed. However, if there is even one person waiting, do what you need to do and let the other person have a turn. The same goes for copiers, fax machines, and any other devices that the library makes available to patrons.
  1. Don't go where you're not allowed. This includes areas that are designated for something other than what you're there for. It also includes social media and websites that aren't approved by the library. Many systems have policies against porn sites, terrorist sites, and any site that promotes anything dangerous to the public.
  2. Respect library staff. Each person has a job to do, and it is disrespectful and rude to expect one of them to cross the line against his or her job description. Many librarians and library clerks will be happy to help you with something other than what they typically do if they're not busy, but always ask first without assuming. And accept the answer.
  3. Be on time for library events. Whether you are there for a lecture from the local historical society representative or you're taking your child to the weekly story hour, arrive on time.
  4. Know where your children are. If you bring your children to the library, don't let them run wild or misbehave in any manner. Only let them out of your sight if they are old enough to learn library rules, find what they are looking for on their own, and find you without raising their voices.
  5. Respect library materials. They don't belong to you. The library system is extremely generous in their lending policies, regardless of what they are. Where else can you take books, movies, and music home with you for a few days or weeks without having to pay a dime? Handle these items carefully, know where they are, and bring them back on time. If you do forget to return something by the due date, accept the fact that you owe a fine. Pay it without argument and move on.