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I’ve really been enjoying the food in libraries stories going around on twitter today. It takes me back to my graduate trainee days (because, umm, that’s the only time I’ve ever actually worked in a library), when John Rylands were rethinking their food and drink policy – at the time, bottled water only. It interested me at the time, and when I went on a presentation skills course, I chose to do my presentation on food and drink in the library.

Leaving aside the searing terror, and the issue of my presentation skills (I fidgeted too much, and wrote in all caps, which is apparently Bad Practice), the thing I remember most from the presentation is the anecdote I used to illustrate my conclusion. I’d been working in the library for all of about 3 months at this point, and I was happily walking back from the kitchen to our office, when I saw a student with a cup of coffee. I was on my way to say something to him, when I looked down at the mug of tea in my hand, and realised what a screaming hypocrite that would make me.

True, I was employed by the library. True, I was going to drink the tea in my office. But there was still a computer there, still plenty of damage I could have caused with a careless slip of the wrist. It’s not like ‘advanced beverage handling 101’ was part of my induction. This really made me rethink my initial response (no! no food! bad students!) into something more measured, more conciliatory (well, ok, then, that’s fine. Just be careful. and don’t take the piss! and do take your rubbish!).

And that’s the line that John Rylands took (I can claim absolutely no role whatsoever in that decision!). Their food and drink policy became ‘it’s your library, leave no trace‘, and I still think that it is a pretty sensible policy. It took a while for me to get used to seeing food and drink being blithely consumed under the watchful eye of librarians, but I got used to it, and have even drunk coffee in the stacks myself.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution – I’m sure current JRUL staff could tell you about a number of drawbacks! – but I think it’s a good way to educate the user about the consequences of their behaviour, rather than just forbidding them. And the library cafe serves good coffee, so overall? Benefits all round 🙂

ps my ambition is now to take a kettle to a library. and a toaster. and an electric coffee grinder. maybe a juicer? gadget lady forever!

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