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Library Etiquette: How to behave in public, university and college libraries

Spending time at the library is a blissful experience for readers, learners, researchers and students alike. Practie good library ettiquette to make your fellow readers feel comfortable and at ease.

Spending time at the library is a blissful experience for readers, learners, researchers and students alike. Practie good library ettiquette to make your fellow readers feel comfortable and at ease.

Library etiquettes are the practices that users should put into place regardless of the official rules, guidelines and codes of conduct listed out by an institution. Whether it is a public, university, college, school or community library – Here is a look at some of the basic manners, courtesy and etiquette that users should follow while using the facilities at a library. Students, readers and library aficionados take note and remember how to behave in a library.

1) Don't use cell phones in the library: Put your gadgets on silent

Most libraries have large placards of 'Silence Please' or 'No Cell Phones Allowed' plastered on the walls of reading rooms. It is basic library etiquette on the part of students, teachers, researchers, academicians or readers to ensure that mobile phones are kept on silent, vibrating or Do Not Disturb modes in a silent zone of the library.

Whether it is an iPad or a Kindle Fire HD, all your gadgets should also be kept on silent. Loud call rings, bizarre reminder tones or short text beeps can be disturbing for other readers who may be trying to concentrate. The silent environment is one of the main reasons why people choose to read or study within the confines of a library. If you must make or take a call, step outside.

2) Update the library with your contact details

Suppose you have moved houses and you forget to update the library records of your new address. You could risk not being informed of an overdue charge, a late return or even potentially expose your membership details to the new folks living at your previous address.

Basic library etiquette suggests that you should always keep your contact details updated. From notices to fines to important legally binding communication, your library may not be able to contact you if you don't update your contact details.

Pesky members may give fake addresses to cheat their libraries and get away from unpaid fines or book thefts. If you are a genuine library user who cares about the vast resource of knowledge that the institution has to offer, do your bit and update your contact details every time you change addresses or phone numbers.

3) Don't talk loudly or whisper too much

Most common, but possibly one of the most abused and flouted codes of conduct. Talking loudly, gossiping, murmuring, chatting, whispering, humming or any other form of talking is best avoided while reading in the silent sections of a library.

This is one of the essentials of basic library etiquette that should be practiced, whether yours is a big public library or a small neighborhood community library. Silence, calmness and a peaceful environment are a library's asset and users flock its premises to do everything from reading, studying for college, preparing presentations and a host of other tasks that require peace and quiet.

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4) Don't ruin books while photocopying them: Handle with care

Most libraries offer the facilities of paid photocopiers so that copies of pages of reference books and other material that is not available to be lent, can be made. Photocopying requires a book to be opened upside down on the glass of the machine.

Users can knowingly or unknowingly dole out rough treatment to books while handling them on a photocopier. Pressing the machine cover too hard or flipping pages carelessly can ruin the binding of a book.

If you are a regular user of the photocopier at your library, apply gentle pressure on the book and turn its pages carefully. The books should be left in the same condition that you found them in.

5) Don't tear pages out of books: If you find someone doing it, report them

Book thefts are known to be prevented in libraries through anti theft sensors and other security systems installed at entries and exits. But missing pages from books may not be easily caught by library authorities.

It can be very tempting for a student on a shoestring budget or a mere prankster to rip out a few pages from a book and stuff them into their bags or pockets. For the library, such an act could spell a major monetary loss while it could mean that the next reader may miss out on just the piece of information he/she was looking for.

Hold high regard for this library etiquette and never tear even a single page from a book. If you find someone doing it, report it to the authorities.

6) Always carry your membership card

Major public libraries and libraries of schools and universities do not lend material to readers without a membership card. In some libraries, readers without membership cards may be allowed to browse through their collection or sit and read.

Regardless of the rules at the library you visit, always carry your membership card. If your membership card shows a clean borrowing history on the library's digital records, you could also be entitled to a few perks or let off in case of a one-off late return.

7) Return books, DVDs and other reference material back to their original location

One of the most annoying things that readers face every day is not being able to find a book on the shelf on which it is supposed to be at. This could have been the result of a library user carelessly putting away a book on a random shelf just because he/she couldn't be bothered going all the way to the shelf on which it originally belonged.

Whether you are in a hurry or you are just feeling lazy, always practice this library etiquette of returning books where you found them. If you are in a tearing hurry caused by an emergency, the least you can do is to return the book to a staff member or at the admin desk and apologize on your way out.

8) Keep low volume while listening to music on headphones

Headphones are meant to keep music to the ears of the listeners but that may not always be the case. Some headphone brands are known to be annoyingly loud on the outside.

Music can be a good tool to help readers concentrate however blaring headphones could very well distract and disturb everyone around you, especially in study areas of libraries. If you love listening to music while reading, make sure that you keep the melodies to yourself by keeping a low volume.

If you are not sure whether your headphones are distractingly loud on the outside, give them a test by taking them off and pumping up the volume. If you can still hear the music, it means that you could potentially disturb a fellow reader in the library.

9) Book the library's photocopier in advance if you have substantial copying on hand

The photocopying section of a library can be a slow moving, chaotic place to be in. Students and researchers typically throng this section to get coursework and reference material photocopied. During exam times, these serpentine queues can get long and extremely frustrating.

If you have a lot of material to photocopy, use your library's online system to book the photocopier in advance. Contact the admin desk in case your library does not have an online portal. By booking a photocopier, you are preempting users and letting them know in advance that you will be using the machine, for example, on Monday afternoon from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Not only will you get uninterrupted time to photocopy at your own pace but you will also let other people clearly know that they should be planning their photocopying on other machines. Courtesy goes a long way in making friends and this library etiquette is all about being courteous to other users.

10) Beverages are acceptable but food is not

Libraries may have vending machines or small adjoining cafeterias at their disposal. But that doesn't mean aromas of balsamic, spices, mayo or coleslaw are ok to be vented out in the reading area. The smell of food may distract other people. Using the same hands to eat and turn the pages of a book or type on the computer can be messy and also permanently damage a library's assets.

Many libraries allow hot beverages like coffee and tea in take away cups, cold beverages in cans and water bottles to be consumed inside their premises. In spite of strict rules against eating, some readers may find it easy to pop in a few chips, dunk some biscuits or other dry foods while hiding behind books.

Food is generally not allowed and most libraries have signs put up to alert users about the same. If you are unsure about the rules at yours, check with a staff before you unwrap a burger or dig into your noodle box.

11) Occupy space for one: Don't lay your stuff all over the table and onto other chairs

Laptop, mouse, charts, reference books, a cup of coffee, stationery – these are the things that usually float around on the table of a university or college library. Follow basic library etiquette and try to manage your stuff in a limited amount of space.

Don't unnecessarily occupy more table space by opening all your reference books at once or spreading out everything you have on your table. Avoid using an empty chair to place your bag and other belongings.

12) Pick up your rubbish as you leave the library

It is not fair to leave public spaces or vehicles dirty after using them. The same civil etiquette applies to libraries too - whether it is about taking with you bits of paper that you had torn off earlier, putting back a book at its place, dumping a coffee cup in the bin or clearing the photocopying area after using it.

Libraries are not movie theaters that immediately get vacuumed once cine goers leave the place. If you leave your spot dirty, the person sitting in it next will have to tolerate your mess.

13) Don't waste library resources

Leaving computer monitors on, printing excess copies, using spare paper, grabbing more pins that you need and a host of other wasteful activities should be avoided. Be considerate and think twice before using a resource that has been made available to you at, or without, a cost.

Funding for public libraries may be coming from government coffers while universities and college libraries could be funded by fees and donations. Out of courtesy, consideration and etiquette, avoid wastage of resources so that the funds can be used by the authorities in better ways that benefit the reader.


Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 25, 2012:

Great resource! You've outlined so many important points.

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