On the Gatekeeping of Public Spaces

So, I’m a librarian. Among my many duties includes the policing of the public space of the library in an effort to make sure everyone has equitable access to the space and facilities. That is sometimes harder to accomplish when personal likes and dislikes come into play.

We are all human, we all have preferences, and many of us go to some lengths to keep our surroundings harmonious with our expectations. Thus, there is the perennial “Teens are too loud”, “Young people dress badly”, “Kids should stop playing on computers so I can get some work done.” One man lost his shit over a perceived jumping of the line to the network printer.

Expectations differ so, that libraries often have codes of conduct that lay out the MINIMUM acceptable behaviors that are to be followed while in the library.

I was listening to a podcast of a security operator for a large social network, and how he took it in his own hands to delete accounts of the people he thought were being bad on the internet. And while he might have been correct, it is that same kind of “I know better than anybody” attitude that I have to guard against all the time. We never know the whole story, we never see the circumstances that led to the decisions that prompted the behavior. I see family power struggles play out in public, I see grudges being settled, I see people getting on each other’s nerves because for that brief moment, they were seen, they mattered and they had to be responded to.

I don’t live in the district my library serves, sometimes I feel I have less call to referee public situations, but it is part of my job, to settle the disturbed, to listen to the slighted and the wronged and to apologize for life not working out to people’s expectations, no matter how high and unrealistic those expectations were.

I guess the short answer is, people can really tire me out.

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