The day I broke strict library rules

A story from my past:

photo by Nrbelex

photo by Nrbelex

I bought a sandwich from the uni refectory.  Since the library was opposite, I thought I’d pop in and quickly check the new releases shelf.  The shelf was next to the issue desk.

As I walked past the issue desk, just 3 or 4 steps away from the shelf I wanted to look at, I was stopped by a member of staff on the issue desk.  She told me I must leave the library with food on my person.

“Ah yes,” I said.  “I wasn’t thinking about food.  Don’t worry, I’m not in here to eat.  I’m just scanning the new release shelf here.  I’ll be about 30 seconds.”

“I’m afraid you can’t,” she said.  “You’re not allowed food in the library and I can see you’ve got food.”

Silly me, my wrapped sandwich was in a see-through paper bag.  Why didn’t I put my sandwich in a rucksack or a large, unidentifiable box like other people? It avoids encounters like this.

I apologised.  “Sorry, I’ll know to pop in *before* I get a sandwich next time.  I’ll just check the shelf and go. Sorry about that!”

No luck. “If you want to check the shelf with that food, you’ll need to get a key from me and put the food in one of the lockers.  You can look at the shelf after that.”

I couldn’t help but be amused at the ridiculous process I’d have to go through just to walk three extra steps and browse a shelf for less than a minute.  The lockers were on the other side of the room too.  The sandwich would need to travel further around the library in order to stop it travelling around the library!

I put my sandwich on the issue desk and smiled at the librarian.  “Tell you what,” I suggested, “Why don’t I leave my food here for a moment and look at the books?  Back in a mo!”

I didn’t wait for a reply.  I bounced the extra few steps to the new releases shelf and was, as expected, less than a minute checking out the titles on offer.  At this point, I bounced right back to the issue desk.

“Thanks! I’m done now.  I’ll take the food and leave.  Promise!”

To my surprise, the librarian had moved the offending sandwich out of sight to another part of the staff space.  Even better, she called over to another member of staff.

She waved at the other person.  “Could you, er, bring me this gentleman’s…you know?  His…”

Not wanting to say it aloud, she mouthed the word “Food” and discretely pointed to where she’d hidden my sandwich.

Once handed back to me, the librarian whispered “There you go,” as if this highly irregular situation could have got her in to trouble more than it could me!

I know rules are in place for a reason, even though the issue of having food in libraries is controversial.  But I hadn’t really considered how much fuss my sandwich would cause.  Until I’d been stopped by the librarian, I didn’t even twig that I’d brought any food in.  My grub spent a good three or four times as long in the library because of that.

Does your library let you take in food and drink?  Do you smuggle stuff in?  Is any kind of food ‘fair game’?


  1. Awww. C’mon, just coz they are not your books, they deserve not to be damaged. 😀
    Imagine if you’d tripped with that sandwich and it went flying everywhere, the contents distributed all over the ceiling and/or books. The poor librarian would have been shouted at. You did a good thing leaving it with her.
    You didn’t mention what were present in the New Releases section.

    1. Hey Jeena. Yes, my sandwich could have fallen out of the paper bag, torn itself from the cellophane wrapping, exploded into pieces, and damaged half the stock. I should be ashamed of myself. 🙂

      There weren’t even other people about. I could almost understand if this was a major problem and there had been a crackdown on food in the library, but none of that was the case. At least it was amusing. Nobody got annoyed, so it was just baffling!

      I wish I could remember now what was on the new release shelf. Hopefully a lot of cookery books…

      1. I’ve got a vivid imagination. Yes, it could have happened. Like a C&H comic strip, the contents of the sandwich would have developed anti-gravity powers and expanded to prevent itself from falling down to earth with the gravity-inclined cellophane wrapping! Burst!! Different projectiles for the different contents. LOL! I ought to stop imagining!

  2. Hahah! this is funny. the rules are reasonable, but they should be flexible too. it become unreasonable if this happen, “The sandwich would need to travel further around the library in order to stop it travelling around the library!” then the rules would be just stupid.

    i can’t recall about my library. i do bring drinks sometime

    1. You’re right. Even though I was essentially breaking the rules, it was an honest mistake and I was only popping in with a quick and specific purpose. If I’d been staying for a while, I’d have eaten the sandwich outside and come back in. But I doubt I’d have made the mistake under those circumstances!

  3. Don’t get me started… Actually, you have got me started, so be prepared for a full-on old fart rant.
    First, your sandwich – you don’t say why you didn’t just go out, eat the damn thing and then return to peruse the shelves.
    The university libraries I am most familiar with now positively encourage the consumption of food and drink- they have coffee bars in their “social learning spaces”. Notices cravenly announce that *hot* food is not to be consumed, but everything else is allowed, and it is common to see tables piled high with chocolate bars, crisps, and, yes, sandwiches. Greasy food doesn’t go with books, but the custodians of our “learning centres” aren’t bothered. The result is that the library just becomes a big common room where people who are allegedly there to study spend their time updating Facebook statuses, playing games, chatting on their mobiles and consuming three course meals. I can’t stand it. I now avoid the library during peak times if I can, as it really pains me to be in there. Of course, the students emerge after a couple of hours of messing about like this, leaving a mountain of litter behind them, and claiming they’ve been “working in the library”. If only…

    1. Thanks for the rant. Always a pleasure. 🙂

      True, many libraries have changed their tune and allow food in. Not all do, but the culture is changing fast. I’ve been in libraries that are more ‘social’ (choose a more appropriate word if you wish…) and it’s difficult to get the balance right a lot of the time.

      I’ll be honest, I prefer the quieter times. Always have. Must’ve been an old fart before I even started uni!

      As for the sandwich, I didn’t eat it outside because I literally wanted to scan the shelf that I was (by that time) standing next to. Nothing more. Seemed a bit ridiculous to do anything other than apologise and carry on regardless that once. Is that awful of me in a library that hadn’t yet succumbed to a fab food free for all?

  4. Hi Martin – I hereby appoint you an honorary old fart. The thing is, the librarian in your case is in a no-win situation: it’s petty not to allow you a quick glance, but if she lets you, then she has to let others. If she lets others, it becomes the norm. And then you end up with people routinely taking food in, which would be disastrous…Oh, wait a minute, that’s normal now…

  5. Yup -I’ve had the same thing happen to me. Been to the shop and popped into the library on the way home to renew a book on the computer. A “silent patrol” member walked past, spotted my carrier bag and said they would have to remove my shopping from the library.

    I get not eating at the computers/around books – but a shopping bag which contained things that needed to be cooked before they could be consumed was a little bit silly and lacked common sense.

    Remember to always pack those sandwiches in a rucksack! 😉

    1. I guess they can’t tell if you want to eat those raw onions like they’re apples. And that dry pasta is just begging to be munched on.

      *slaps forehead*

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