“People are recognizing that food in the library is an irresistible force” ~ Scott Bennett, Yale University Librarian Emeritus

A big thank you to Dr. Scott Bennett for this remark; I’ve never felt so compelled to take a quote out of context. Professor Bennett’s comment was included in the Chronicle of Higher Education article Snacks in the Stacks: Libraries Welcome Food Amid the Books. Believe it or not, I don’t have particularly strong feelings about eating and drinking in libraries. However, I thought it would be fun to hear from fellow librarians about their encounters with food in the library. Please add your stories in the comments!
No Food in the Library Sign

9 thoughts on ““People are recognizing that food in the library is an irresistible force” ~ Scott Bennett, Yale University Librarian Emeritus

  1. Suzanne Chapman

    I once worked at a library that allowed food (though the policy was not posted anywhere)… I always found it funny to watch people sneak food in… They’d do all kinds body contortions to hide the fact that they were carrying food (from a soda can to an extra large pizza). They usually either had a guilty look on their face or seemed proud because they thought they were getting away with something. If we made eye contact I’d give them a little knowing nod and smile to let them think I’m, like, the cool librarian who is letting them get away with something.

  2. Maureen

    At the public health library, where I’m working now, we have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding food in the library. I think that because patrons are sneaky and careful, it’s never really been a problem.
    When I did reference at the undergraduate library, there was a strict no-food rule. I mostly didn’t care, but it’s obnoxious to smell someone’s spaghetti dinner when it’s 7 pm and I haven’t eaten all day. Also, someone once had a pizza delivered to the UGLi.
    Of course, it makes sense for us to protect our collections and our technology, but students are under enormous strain from coursework and working, and I think that it’s only reasonable to provide somewhere in the library where they can eat comfortably.

  3. Jessie

    working at the fine arts library, like any library, you get some odd requests. one of the best, from the past two years is the little old man who comes in late at night, once every two weeks or so, around 9:15 pm with some print he bought at the local thrift store, intending on doing research about what the print would be worth if it was ‘real’. i enjoy my exchange with him. but even more, i enjoy seeing what he brings in with him. every night, he brings in a new left over poriton of food – french fries, lasagne, 1/3 a steak – and requests that we watch it for him behind the circulation desk while he completes his art related inquiry. i love this man and enjoy his presence in the library…but honestly, i wonder, does he really think someone is going to steal his plastic encased grizzled leftovers, or is he just that into library policy?

  4. Andrea

    I was once working in the DIAD on the 3rd floor of the UGLi, and found a couple of undergrads huddled up around a whole slew of Chinese takeout near the first floor in the back stairwell. You could smell it up to the third floor, which was really obnoxious not just because it smelled of Chinese takeout, but also because I don’t understand why the kids couldn’t eat the food where they bought it instead of sneaking it into the library. They weren’t doing schoolwork; they were eating. That’s what a restaurant is for, no? I don’t care how much stress students are under from school and work, it’s their own fault that they can’t manage their time well enough to have a “proper” meal. Perhaps learning how to balance these details is part of the educational experience, but I find it extremely inconsiderate of other patrons. What if there had been peanut sauce on the food and another patron had a life-threatening peanut allergy?

  5. Shana

    This post puts me in mind of one of my father’s favorite jokes. Apologies to blond-headed readers of FITL:

    A blond walks into the library and says to the librarian, “I’ll have a cheeseburger, some fries, and a chocolate milkshake, please.” And the librarian says, “Ma’am, don’t you know this is a library?” The blond responds, whispering: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll have a cheeseburger, some fries, and a diet coke.”

  6. Shana

    Oops — missed the chance to edit. She says chocolate milkshake both times. Er, funnier that way–or at least it was if it were written right.

  7. dave

    maureen’s on the money, when i worked at the UM undergraduate library someone had pizza delivered there too. I used to see all kinds of food in that place. Pizza also happened at univ iowa occasionally when I worked there. At iowa, staff were much more hardcore about enforcement (no drinks even!), so someone from the circ desk would usually run down the hall after the guy with the pizza. so, they effectively policed hungry people much more actively and effectively than the creepy guys in taco bell uniforms who spent all day drinking large mountain dews, looking at porn and online chatting with “young girls” in all-caps.

  8. Annie

    I work in a public library with a relatively loose food policy. Drinks of all kinds are allowed as well as snacks such as chips, candy bars, etc. Basically, anything you can buy in our vending machines is fair game. However, we don’t allow food items that may cause more of a mess or smell out of courtesy to our other patrons and cleaning staff. The funniest interaction I’ve ever had over this issue was with a tutor and her student (talking very loudly though I wasn’t shushing them) eating two sandwiches from Jimmy John’s. I told them that takeout food wasn’t allowed in our building and would appreciate it if they would take the food outside. I then proceeded to get scolded for trying to keep people from using the library. My question? If she wanted a place where they could eat and talk, why couldn’t she tutor him at Jimmy John’s?

  9. Julie

    My career in libraries began back before food was gaining acceptance. Over the years, I developed keen perception for the sound of crinkling food wrappers. These days, it’s an entirely useless skill, but for years I would respond to the sound like it was a fire alarm. Once, I approached a UCSF student about to pop a fun size Snickers into her mouth and informed her that food was not permitted in the library. Her response: “It’s candy,” as though candy somehow fell outside the category of food. She had a point, I recognized, and I had absolutely no response. So, I shook my head in defeat and walked away.

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