Friday, 11 December 2009

The First Rule of Library Club is...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a NESTA Crucible reunion. The NESTA Crucible was on of the transformative episodes of my life, along with a month in Sante Fe on a Complex Systems Summer School, and I'm starting to think also with this Arcadia Fellowship...

One of the activities we did on our final Crucible weekend was go on a misguided walk. Although taken by a knowledgeable tour guide, the itinerary of a misguided walk (which I would probably now call an unguided walk) was largely left to chance. At every junction we took, a die was rolled, or some other random event invoked, to decide which way we went, the guide was knowledgeable enough to be able to talk about things of interest as we did so, as well as calling on us to engage in various practices that I suspect owe originally to the surrealist school...;-)

At the time, the misguided walk reminded me of several other (possibly misremembered!) things I'd come across before:

- Yoko Ono's Map Piece [PDF];
- an article (I think from an edition of Encyclopedia Psychedelica?) about a walking tour akin to a misguided tour in which the walking party was led through various London department stores and office blocks (or something like that) according to the rule: "if door is marked private, go through it, looking confident as you do so..."
- an article somewhere or other about "Guided holidays at home", where a holiday tour guide would come to your house and give you a guided tour of it through their eyes (a bit like a warped version of "Through the Keyhole", I guess?!)

So where's all this going....? Earlier today I tweeted a comment about one of the Cambridge University Library rules and linked to the rules on the Library website. This prompted several other people to visit the rules and comment back on them... For example:

UL rules commentary

So as I try to come up with some sort of report on my time as an Arcadia Fellow - as I try to come up with a post hoc rationalisation of what I've spent my time doing! - I keep coming back to this: that I've spent my time pointing at various Emperors and asking why they're wearing no clothes (or in the contemporary slang, pointing at various elephants in the room and asking: "Erm...?") Or looking at everyday things, and interpreting them the wrong way....

So for example, when I wandered into the English Faculty Library and saw a sign on a desk facing the entrance to the Library that said: "Staff Enquiry Desk", being a insecure type of soul I read it as "Enquiry Desk for Staff". (I'm not sure if the sign is there still...?!;-)

Or to take another example, how about the University Library Rules... Rules are funny things - they evolve over time to protect the current - and occasionally past - interests of an organisation; to outsiders, who don't fully appreciate the reasons for them, or the ramificiations of not having them, they can appear mysterious, overbearing, or even nonsensical; they ca be misinterpreted in all sorts of ways, either in terms of sense, or tone; they may contain inconsistencies; they may include legacy rules that may have made sense once but for whatever reason seem antiquated now; and so on.

And as with poster blindness, it's easy to for them, and their foibles, to become invisible, so that those familiar with them read them not so much as literally as in the local dialect, ("ah yes, what that actually means is..."). In turn, this means it can be hard to see the things with which we have become familiar as a newcomer might. Such as a new Arcadia Fellow, for example, or a new undergrad, new postgrad, new academic or new visitor. (And remember, you were new once, and may have made a similar joke, way back when...) So maybe it's worth looking at the rules once again, with as fresh a pair of eyes as you can muster...?

[The emphasis is/annotations are mine...]

Opening and closing

1. Except on the days when it is closed under Regulations 2 and 3 (Ordinances) the Library shall normally be open as follows:

Monday to Friday, 9.00 to 19.15 (22.00 during Full Easter Term).

Saturday, 9.00 to 17.00.

No person shall enter the Library less than fifteen minutes before the time of closing. [We operate an asymmetric opening/closing policy - if you're in, you can stay in in until later than you're allowed in; that is, you can benefit from a library lock-in...]

The opening hours of reading rooms are determined from time to time by the Syndicate. Details are given on the University Library's web-site (


2. In addition to members of the University, the following persons may be granted a Reader's Card and admitted to the Library, but may not borrow books:

(a) Any persons over 18 who are engaged in private study or research, if supported by appropriate evidence of academic standing and fitness for admission. An administrative charge of £10 will be made for a Card valid for up to six months.

No charge is made for the single issue within any twelve-month period of a Card valid for up to seven consecutive days, or for the issue of a Card to a current member of the academic staff or a registered research student of any other university funded by one of the higher education funding councils in the United Kingdom.

(b) Undergraduates of other universities in the British Isles normally resident in the Cambridge area, if supported by appropriate recommendations.

Cards issued under this section shall be free of charge and shall normally be valid only during the vacations of this University.

3. Readers' Cards are not transferable. Every person to whom a Card is issued under Rule 2 shall sign an undertaking to observe the Regulations for the use of the Library and the Rules made by the Library Syndicate.

Holders of Readers' Cards issued under Rule 2 may be required to work in a particular reading room designated by the Librarian and shall comply with any special conditions laid down by the Syndicate. The whole or part of the administrative charge may be waived at the discretion of the Librarian. [We laughingly refer to this as "partition" - but don't tell anyone]

Readers must inform the library of any changes to their current address. [We know where you live...]

4. The Syndicate reserve the right to cancel at any time, without assigning cause for the cancellation, any Reader's Card issued under Rule 2. ["Brazil" is one of my favourite films; Josef K. is one of the dummy names we use to test library systems]

5. Persons over the age of 16 not holding a Reader's Card may be admitted to the Library for the sole purpose of viewing the building provided that they are accompanied throughout the visit either by a member of the University or by a member of the Library staff. No member of the University may introduce more than two visitors at one time except by arrangement with the Librarian. Visitors admitted to the Library under this rule may use the Tea Room but are not permitted to consult any books or other library materials. [You WILL NOT look at any of the books - got that? Whaddya think we are - WH Smiths...?]

6. The Exhibition Centre is open to all members of the University and the general public.


7. No book shall be borrowed from the Library on any day less than fifteen minutes before the time of closing. [So bearing in mind point 1. above, you need to arrive at least half an hour before closing time - plus time to navigate the OPAC, stacks, and raise and receive stack requests - if you want to actually borrow anything Whaddya think we are, a Library..? Claiming that you got lost finding a book in the stacks, or finding your way out of the stacks, is not our problem, it's yours; got that? It's your problem...So get here in plenty of time...]

8. Any borrower who fails to return a book in accordance with the provisions of Regulation 6 or Regulation 7 (Ordinances) shall be liable to a fine of 25 pence (50 pence for recalled books) for each working day (or part thereof) that elapses before the book is returned or the Librarian is notified that it has been lost and the replacement cost of the book has been paid.

9. Works of reference, unbound works, or parts of works may not be borrowed except by the special permission of the Librarian or a person appointed by him/her, but may be consulted in a reading room of the Library. Printed books not kept on the 'open' shelves may be borrowed unless this is prohibited by special restrictions.

10. Personal details of borrowers of Library materials may not be disclosed to other readers, nor shall any person use the computerized facilities of the Library to obtain or process data except in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Use of Library materials

11. The marking of any Library materials is forbidden; readers may be prohibited from using ink and may be asked to use pencils instead while consulting certain volumes in any of the reading rooms.

12. All persons borrowing Library materials, or ordering materials for use within the Library, shall produce evidence of identity at the time of borrowing or ordering if requested to do so. [This may include iris checking, fingerprinting, DNA testing, swabs, etc etc]

13. Use of University Library’s IT facilities is governed by the Rules made by the Information Technology Syndicate of the University ( cs/itsyndicate/rules.html) and shall be only in accordance with the terms of the JANET Acceptable Use Policy (

Behaviour in the Library

14. Silence shall be maintained as far as possible in the Library. [Shhhh...]

15. Readers must present their Reader’s Card or University Card for inspection if requested by a member of the Library staff in the course of their duties. [You have no rights... You must carry identity papers with you at all times...]

16. The use of portable computers [does that include smartphones, notwithstanding 17 below?] is permitted in the Library provided that they are quiet in operation. Users of such equipment may be required to work in specified areas or to stop using a computer if it constitutes a distraction to other readers.

17. The use of equipment likely to disturb or distract other readers or to damage Library materials (e.g. digital scanners, radios, personal hi-fi equipment [psst, I se lots of people using iPods in the Library... just don't tell anyone...], or computers to perform any of the functions of such machines) is not permitted in the Library [but you are allowed to use the big photocopier/scanner things in the Photocopier room. It's not that it's a monopoly thing, but you know - we have to be able to say we're providing some added value, non-book services...]. Mobile telephones must be set to ‘silent’ mode in the Library; the use of mobile telephones is only permitted in the Tea Room, the Locker Room and the courtyards of the Library. [We do not like the idea of the mobile library. It's evil - evil, d'you hear? Nasty, nasty technology. Dirty... Evil...]

18. Overcoats, raincoats, and other kinds of outdoor clothing, umbrellas, bags, cases, cameras [so does that include phones, notwithstanding 17 above?], photocopying devices [so does that include phones, notwithstanding 17 above?], and similar personal belongings [like what? Mobile phones, maybe, notwithstanding 17 above?] shall normally be deposited in the locker-room adjacent to the entrance hall during each visit to the Library. [You may be subject to a search when entering or leaving the building. Bags may well be taken away and destroyed.]

19. Handbags, files, folders, coats, and the like, if allowed into the Library, shall be subject to examination on exit. [You may be subject to a personal search when entering or leaving the building.]

20. Bottles of ink, correction fluid, and other potentially damaging substances shall not be taken into the Library. [Everything you do take into the building needs to be in a clear plastic bag. Homeland Security rules apply.]

21. Food and drink shall not be taken into the Library generally, but may be admitted for consumption in the courtyards or in the Tea Room, provided that paying customers are not deprived of seats. [Whaddya think this space is? A social area?]

22. Smoking is permitted only in the courtyards.

23. No person may go barefoot in the Library. [No hippies.]

24. Library staff are empowered to stop any activity in the Library which they consider prejudicial to the safety, well-being, or security of readers or Library staff or to the preservation of the collections. [We pwn you..]

PS feel free to comment below... ;-)

PPS also feel free to try this exercise with your own library's rules...

[Tony Hirst has now left the building...

...though I like to think: I will be back...]

1 comment:

Ed Chamberlain said...

We will see about that :)

To my mind, most of the really draconian stuff stems from the fact that we really are a library with two heads. A Legal Deposit Reference Library head and a University Lending Library head.

Having each head in place is better for the users overall, but means we start jumping between models that start to conflict with each other.

Places like the BL with much tighter users restrictions to stacks and material (i.e. only in a supervised reading room) don't need to drone on the evils of ink, no shoes and speaking, as they can supervise this in the reading room.

Undergraduate friendly modern lending libraries can offer shared working environments and allow users a bit more personal freed to potentially harm material, as it does not need to be kept forever and will probably be superseded in a year or so anyway.

We are somewhere in between, hence all of this.

So an explanation, if not an excuse.