“Best of…” 2005-c

From: M.C.

Subject: A library victory

Date: Jul 2005

I’ve just been given permission to use the Taos Public Library barefoot!  Here’s the story.

When I first moved here 14 years ago, the town library was run by the University of New Mexico, and I had no problems using it barefoot.  (It was in a wonderful old building with exquisite wooden floors.)  Then, 7 or 8 years ago, the library moved to a new fancy building and came under town management.  “Shoes must be worn in the library at all times.”  The town manager (a notoriously corrupt autocrat) ran the library illegally without community representation until a local activist group forced him to do otherwise, so the library formally came under the management of its Director and an Advisory Committee.

A good friend and neighbor joined the Committee, and was recently elected Chair.  She told me they were reviewing the patron regulations.  I understood that the director was a decent and reasonable person, so in April I wrote them a letter asking them to remove the shoe regulation.  I got back a letter from the Assistant Town Attorney.  It mentioned Bob Neinast’s case, among other things, and it basically said the library could legally impose such a rule.  In May, I wrote another letter (the committee only meets monthly), urging them again.  No reply.  Finally, two weeks ago, I wrote to the Director, telling her I was impatient, that I’d gladly meet with her in person to discuss things if that would help, but that otherwise I expected a decision in writing promptly, either granting my request, or detailing the reasons for refusing it.  I added that if she refused, I’d continue to pursue the matter in other ways.

As it happened, a week ago Friday, my friend on the Committee (a composer) invited me to take part in a children’s concert at the library.  She wanted me to give a short talk to the kids about the physics of sound.  The Director of the library introduced the program, and afterward I told her who I was and asked what she was going to do.  She was very friendly.  She said she had no problems with bare feet in the library, that she goes barefoot a good deal herself.  But she didn’t want to remove the regulation, for fear that kids might step on staples, etc.  Instead, she offered to make an exception to the rule for me.  She asked me to come to the library staff meeting the following week, so she could introduce me to the staff and tell them what she was doing.

At the staff meeting, she explained things to everyone, and asked me to tell them a bit about why I went barefoot as a way of life.  I did my best, impromptu.  I added that I’d never wanted any special privileges; what if someone asked me why I could go barefoot in the library and they couldn’t?  The Director immediately said, “Just tell them it’s decided on a case-by-case basis.  If it leads to problems, we’ll have to review the decision.”  I said fine, thank you very much, and on my way out I heard her saying nice things about the presentation I’d given the kids.

So I just got back from renewing my 10 year old library card, and looking around the new library.  What a pleasure!  Checking out a book, the librarian was extremely friendly, called me by name, and said she looked forward to seeing me again.

Of course, problems may arise.  I’d call this victory a 7 on a scale of 10.  But 7 is way better than zero!