BPL's new ban on floor sitting

Our own eeka explains her first-hand experience with the new rule.



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    I am so sick of "social justice"

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    "I like social justice" is like the 2012 version of "I have eccentric taste in music" of 2009.

    If I read the phrase "social justice" one more time, I'm going to scream.



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    Was that in reference to the header of my blog? It's said that since 2005.

    Okay then

    Environmental justice. Socioeconomic status.

    Sorry, but some of us actually incorporate these things as concrete information and critical pieces of data in the things we do for a living.

    Whine all you want about the terminology - as long as the differences in income and social status continue to independently influence important things like a person's risks of disease, us scientists who study human populations will just nod and move on with our work. Policy makers will continue to create umbrella terms like "social justice" so we can all talk to each other about critical determinents of health, welfare, education outcomes, etc.

    Dear BPL

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    when the rationale for your "safety" policies are lost on professional social workers, you might be off track:

    I assume the person who made the policy is aware that blind people are always prepared for the possibility of all different types of moving and stationary objects, just like anyone else. -eeka

    I was frustrated during an encounter with the human attendant in charge of administrating pc access at the 02132 BPL branch, and the software BPL installed to administrate pc use, including authentication by library card id.

    Let's Hope...

    Let's hope this hypothetical blind person doesn't need to go into the children's room at the BPL (in any of the branches). There are people (kids and parents) sitting all over the place- and at least half of them are on the floor.

    Had the same thought

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    What if I bring my kid there? Could my kid sit on the floor? Also, my child is 3 feet tall, which is about the same height as me sitting -- someone could trip! They should ban children!

    Oh, and can people sit or kneel to get books off of low shelves? Is sitting for short periods of time ok, but not longer ones? Or do we have to get the low books by bending over or squatting? Talk about injuries that might occur!

    I agree...

    I used to shelve books at the BPL- and to get all the books onto the lower shelves I would have to sit on the floor (or on one of those round step stools that have wheels that lock when you step down on it)- especially in the children's room where you would be shelving and reorganizing whole sections of books, multiple times a day, after groups of kids rearranged them. I don't remember ever having someone trip over me- and if I saw I was in the way I moved.

    Followup... BPL news story.

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    Any followup on the news story?... about a Circulation Department fellow at Copley Square Boston Public Library while on vacation murdered together with his girlfriend.

    homeless shelter?

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    last time i was in the copley bpl the place was loaded with homeless folks trying to stay warm. bundled up and hunkered down in any available space. the waiting area for the internet smelled like the mens room at fenway park circa 1982. i know you are an advocate for the mentally ill but i know some people that are scared away from copley because of this situation.

    That's on them

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    I use the Copley branch all the time. The folks who hang out there are primarily interested in peacefully passing time and being left alone. If someone is "scared away from copley" it's because of their projected fears and not any real issues.

    Full disclosure--I was startled once when passing by the internet area on the way to the travel books to see a screen full of naked pictures. Not offended, just startled to see them unexpectedly. I inquired of the staff member nearby and apparently they have a couple of machines closest to the staff desk without filters. I think this is a reasonable compromise between 1st amendment rights and "think of the children" pearl clutching.


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    I use the Copley branch all the time too, and I have no problem with the homeless people there. Truthfully, if I was homeless that's where I would spend all my time. And I'm glad there's someplace warm they can go when it's cold out (or someplace cool to go when it's hot out). It makes me sad that the BPL is using its time and few resources to enforce a pretty dumb rule.

    Nope, sorry

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    I'm a 100 pound female and I won't go anywhere near that branch any more. Too many suspicious people and too many secluded corners. I like books, but not more than my bodily safety. I go out of my way to go to Allston or Brighton.

    "That's on you"

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    I'm just waiting for the posts telling you that your fears stem from irrational hatred of the mentally ill.

    Because, of course, it can be shown statistically that the population in question is no more likely to commit violent crimes than the average graduate student.

    irrational hatred of the mentall ill?

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    i know its not the same these days but the mens room at copley bpl was a very scary place for children up until a few years ago. i had a friend accosted by two homeless guys that were lookng for a younger, third person to join whatever the hell they were doing in their stall. the place used to be super creepy central. the last times i was there the bathroom no longer seemed to be an issue but the large amount of homeless people spread out all over the place was.

    I understand

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    Anon, while I don't necessarily agree that the Copley library branch is dangerous, I do understand your concern. (For the record, I am a very petite woman, but I don't recall ever feeling unsafe at Copley). Anyway, I go to the Allston branch too, the staff is super nice there.

    Spunk on the floor

    Personal health is another reason besides blind people that one may not want to sit on the floor. I suspect sitting on the floor is one step from laying on one's side reading, and next sleeping.

    Slippery when wet slope argument

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    They seemed capable of determining that she was seated on the floor in a timely enough manner to tell her not to. If the problem is actually with lying or sleeping on the floor, then draw the line there and they'll catch laying/sleeping individuals instead.

    Otherwise all you are doing is retroactively and arbitrarily justifying their line at seated people because of something that you don't want to happen...even though sitting isn't the true problem, it's what it leads to...

    Nexus of the klashes

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    Ah, great subject and comments - could be an interesting thread

    As someone whom has been frequently public libraries in Massachusetts for years beyond most commentators would care -- interesting to see this rather consistent 'social subject' arise.

    For all too many years the public libraries in Mass have been the sunup shelters for every 'lost to impacted soul' within our commonwealth. We're fortunate to have the space for those least disruptive. Clearly I've noticed the increase in transients to homeless in our libraries over the past several decades.

    Very interesting to notice the subtle to not so subtle differences in how our public libraries handle the 'rights issues' amongst their institutions, whether urban, suburban, to rural libraries.

    Not unreasonable

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    The BPL "no sitting on the floor" rule does not seem unreasonable to me. Anyone making an issue of it is clearly looking for a cause.

    Blame the 1980s lawsuits

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    It used to be that libraries had some discretion: If you were sitting on the floor reading a book, they could leave you alone; if you were sitting on the floor, making the entire section reek of urine, obviously not using the library's collection, and staring belligerently at passers-by, they could throw you out.

    After losing a bunch of legal battles in the 1980s involving the claim that libraries were discriminating against "the homeless". libraries had to replace this discretion with rigid, definable criteria.

    The consequence that personally bugs me is the "no sleeping" rule. It's now forbidden to take a semi-interesting book to an overstuffed chair in a sunny spot and fall asleep while perusing it.

    Is the world now a better place as a result? On the one hand, the "homeless" have a warm, safe, dry place to hang out. On the other hand, library patrons have to put up with a lot of stench that they didn't need to put up with before.

    And, by the way, I put "homeless" in quotes not in derision, but because the library staff, obviously, cannot tell by looking at you whether or not you have a permanent address, so the term "homeless" is being used as a proxy for something else.

    Why do fools fall in love?

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    Why do birds suddenly appear?
    How deep is your love?
    Why can't we be friends?
    Where have you been?


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    eeka, your last comment had me laughing so much.. with tears. Thanks.

    Libraries are not for sleeping

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    "The consequence that personally bugs me is the 'no sleeping' rule. It's now forbidden to take a semi-interesting book to an overstuffed chair in a sunny spot and fall asleep while perusing it."

    I'm sorry, but libraries are not for sleeping. They are not hotels. And besides, the charming ambience of the "overstuffed chair in a sunny spot" that you depict doesn't exist in the Copley BPL by a longshot.

    Clarity re: behavior?

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    eeka although I generally agree with you on a lot of this kind of stuff, I'm left with the sense that you're kind of talking out of both sides of your mouth on one issue:

    You frequently point out that acceptance of the mentally ill does not equate to acceptance of undesirable behavior: that one can be accepting and have compassion and, at the same time, set and enforce limits on behavior.

    And then you complain that rules which are clearly and specifically aimed at behavior, are done as a proxy for kicking the mentally ill out of the libraries.

    Library staff cannot tell whether or not you are mentally ill. They can, on the other hand, observe your behavior, and it seems entirely reasonable to ban behavior that interferes with the library's primary mission, as in, "You cannot sit on our upholstered furniture while wearing urine-soaked clothing."

    Good point

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    Yeah, I'm in favor of responding the same way to the same behavior, regardless of who's doing it.

    If a group of dudebros are in the library loudly "hurr hurr"-ing, most of us would tell them we have work to finish or whatever and ask them to keep it down. So if someone is disrupting the library by ranting about the CIA or listing all the green line stops, we should similarly ask them to keep it down, rather than assuming they're not capable or assuming they don't care. And if either party refuses, then they should be asked to leave, just like anyone.

    Similarly, if someone is sitting there making noise, or blocking the aisle, they should be asked to stop bothering people. If someone is sitting away from the shelves and aisles, looking through a book, why is that a problem? I do think the library chose this behavior because a lot of people with mental illness sit and "loiter," and they'd like an excuse to kick people out who have mental illness at the first opportunity.

    Library staff are not diagnosticians

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    and they'd like an excuse to kick people out who have mental illness at the first opportunity.

    I'm going to challenge that statement. Again.

    If someone with a mental illness comes into the library, takes a book from the shelf, sits down at a table and reads it, without manifesting any other behaviors that bother other patrons, then the library staff has no way of knowing that that person has a mental illness, much less a desire to kick that person out.

    The library staff has no interest in identifying people with mental illnesses and singling them out for persecution; the library staff is interested in maintaining a comfortable, safe, and productive environment for the people trying to use the library as a library by regulating behavior. Some undesirable behavior happens to come with a DSM code attached; some does not; I seriously doubt the library staff cares which it is in any particular case.

    If what you want to argue is that some of the behavioral standards are unreasonable, then make that argument. It's the same sort of argument one might make if the library were to impose a dress code requiring coat and tie on men, for example.


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    Given that Eeka couldn't find any other reference to this policy, is it possible that this encounter actually involved one misinformed staff member aggressively enforcing a policy s/he was unclear on?

    That's what I'm thinking

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    I did ask to talk to the person in charge, because I'm not one to get into it with a customer-service type who I know didn't make the policy. I was told that it's in the written library policies that people can't sit on the floor.

    The website actually says you can't sit blocking aisles, which seems reasonable.

    Consider the Athenaeum

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    If you are a heavy and regular user of libraries, consider the Boston Athenaeum. While not so grand as the BPL's McKim building, it's still a gorgeous facility conducive to getting work done; the collection is amazing, and you can even bring your dog!

    Contrary to popular perception, it's not some exclusive, hereditary secret Brahmin society; you walk up to the front desk with your credit card and the next day you're a member. It's $200 per year if you're under 35, which is expensive but, if you're using it constantly, it's a bargain, and there are a lot of benefits to membership (free admission to exhibits, good speaker series, etc.)

    Chairs are for sitting. If

    Chairs are for sitting. If you can't sit down in a library chair, take your book home - it's free!

    Not long after the new wing opened, I started visiting Copley. It was full of skeevy bums, especially downstairs near the men's room. I was in my late teens, and knew how to take care of myself, and even I was creeped out. And it was well known that they were having problems with guys who pissed and shit their pants sitting in the cloth-covered chairs.

    If the city wants to provide a place for such people to collect, it is welcome to provide it. The vast majority should not have to deal with them in a library. They're called libraries, and not adult daycare centers, for a reason. They can't go into City Hall and stay the day, can they?

    This is not about mental illness

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    This is not about mental illness, it's about behavior.

    Sitting on other people's furniture while wearing piss-soaked clothes is a behavior, it is not an underlying condition.

    And in your case, you may or may not have a diagnosed condition; what people chide you for is not a condition, it is a specific behavior (posting non-sequiturs every time the topic of libraries comes up)

    When you're browsing in a

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    When you're browsing in a bookstore or library, do you like having to step over or skirt a person who has decided to sit down in the section you're perusing? When you're looking at nutrition labels in the supermarket, do you sit down in the aisle, or do you stand up like a grown-up? It's just common courtesy.

    I like the way you think

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    Hm, if the grocery store had nutrition labels that took several hours to read, and areas with wide-open carpeted spaces, then I might!

    I Have...

    I have sat down in the grocery store aisle for two reasons: the first is to reach something at the very back of the very bottom store shelf; and the second was when I had an injury to my back which made it hard for me to remain standing in one place (walking was bad- but standing still was torture) for even short periods of time while I read labels/compared products. So there are reasons people could be stopping/sitting in places others would not expect.

    The Real Sheet newsletter of the BPLPSA

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    Front line staff of Boston Public Library haven't the best staff development programs. Lack of good support for front line staff of BPL puts them betwixt and between bad customers services and bad managers. Check out "The Real Sheet" newsletter of the BPLPSA Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association http://bpl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1688959042_... available from staff and by subscription http://bplpsa.info