The 9 things you should never do in a library, according to former employees

If you don't know where a book goes, don't shove it on a shelf.

If you don’t know where a book goes, don’t shove it on a shelf.
  • Insider spoke to former library employees who shared some of the worst things people do in libraries.
  • If your phone is on vibrate, it should not be resting on a hard surface.
  • Putting books back on the shelves is only helpful if you actually know where they came from.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

These days, libraries are much more than havens for bibliophiles and scholars.

From community events to technology classes, you can now do more than ever at your local library – but you should still be mindful of some important etiquette.

Here are a few things you should never do in a library, according to people who have actually worked there.

Libraries are generally kid-friendly zones, but leaving young children unattended is considered inappropriate.

You should be keeping an eye on your child while at the library.
Getty/ Ronnie Kaufman

Author and former Brooklyn Public Library artist-in-residence Christine Sloan Stoddard told Insider that the library staff doesn’t appreciate when guardians allow their kids to run amok through the shelves.

“Librarians and other staff are not babysitters. If left to play and wander, little ones may disturb other patrons and cause damage to library property,” said Stoddard.

In general, kids should always be supervised in a library, even when they’re hanging out in sections that are designed for them.

You should avoid visiting the library when you’re sick.

You might spread germs onto the books.

Shannon Serpette, former library clerk and board member at the Henry Public Library in Illinois, told Insider that a sniffling and sneezing patron is a librarian’s worst nightmare.

“One thing I really hated to see was people walking into the library who were super sick. Yes, I know it’s nice to have something to read when you’re feeling ill – but if you have a fever and you’re shivering and coughing, please do everyone a favor and stay at home,” said Serpette.

By wandering around the library and handling library materials while sick, you’re potentially spreading your illness to other patrons and library staff. There’s also the possibility that your coughing and sneezing might be disruptive to other readers.

Save yourself the trouble of a trip to the library and download an e-book or audiobook from your library’s online catalog instead.

Don’t randomly re-shelve books, even if you’re trying to be helpful.

If you don’t know where a book belongs, don’t just shove it onto a shelf.
Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty

Even though it seems polite to place books on shelves instead of leaving them lying around, you could be causing a headache for staff members.

“You might think you’re being helpful by returning your book to the shelf, but it’s only helpful if you actually put it back where it belongs,” said Stoddard.

Stoddard explained that libraries rely on a precise cataloging system to allow patrons and staff to locate a single book out of the thousands on the shelves, so if a book is improperly placed, it can be nearly impossible to find it again.

If you aren’t completely certain you’re returning a book to its correct home, simply place it on a dedicated re-shelving cart, pass it to a library staff member, or just leave it on a library table.

The staff is there to help you, but that obligation begins and ends with the times posted on the library door.

If the library is closing, you should be on your way out as well.

Just as you wouldn’t appreciate being forced to extend your workday for the sake of one customer, don’t expect library staff to work around your schedule.

“People sometimes enter the library a minute before closing and act like it’s okay to spend 20 minutes looking at books on the shelves, or knock on the door before the library is scheduled to open,” said Serpette.

Don’t use the library computers to browse inappropriate sites.

It can make things especially uncomfortable for the library staff.

When using library computers or a library WiFi connection, you’ll want to keep your internet browsing rated G and avoid NSFW websites.

“A huge no-no is using the library computers to look up inappropriate adult websites. That should go without saying, but there are patrons at the library who actually do this. It’s horribly uncomfortable for the staff,” Serpette said.

You may also avoid browsing sites that prominently feature violence or explicit language since it’s easy to forget to close a tab and inadvertently expose a younger or more sensitive patron to explicit material.

It’s not appropriate to take care of personal grooming at the library.

Doing so could leave a mess behind for someone else.

Stoddard told Insider that it’s not appropriate to groom yourself at the library – and even if they don’t say anything, fellow patrons and staff members notice.

“Do not clip your fingernails at library desks and tables, and do not apply makeup. Unless it’s a quick swipe of lip balm, you may get whatever you’re applying on a book, electronic, the table, or the floor,” she said.

You should also avoid using toothpicks or brushing your hair in the library, as these activities may leave food or strands on books, floors, keyboards, or other surfaces.

Don’t stick around library events just to indulge in the free food.

But if you are experiencing food insecurity, library staff members may be happy to share food with you.
Shalom Ormsby Images Inc/Getty

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a few snacks during catered library events like art receptions and author readings, but it’s considered poor form to take so much food that there is none left for anyone else.

That said, if you are a patron who is experiencing food insecurity, Stoddard said you may want to just speak to library staff, who are often willing to share extra food with you.

“If you’re just in it for the food because you’re truly hungry, stick around until the very end of the reception and there may be leftovers. Staff will often invite patrons to take leftovers with them because they don’t want to waste food,” she told Insider. “If they don’t, just ask politely and discreetly if you can take food with you.”

Don’t allow your phone to beep or vibrate loudly — put it on silent.

If you have to take a call, head outside.
Getty/Hero Images

Taking a phone call in the middle of the reading room is frowned upon, but you should also be aware that the intermittent chirps of incoming text messages can be just as obnoxious as a loud conversation or ring tone – so switching your cell phone to silent is a must.

In addition, ensure that any vibrations coming from your phone are felt and not heard by stashing it inside of a bag or on top of your coat, not on a hard surface.

Avoid monopolizing the time of library staff with your tech-related questions.

They’re often happy to help you with the basics, but there is a limit.

Serpette said that even though most library staff members are happy to answer basic questions about computers, they usually don’t have time to provide in-depth tutorials.

“As much as I loved to help people who were technologically-challenged, people shouldn’t expect a one-on-one computer-troubleshooting session from their library clerk either,” Serpette told Insider.

If you need additional help, consider asking your library if they offer dedicated technology info sessions or workshops for its patrons.

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