Are librarians allowed to date patrons?
June 10, 2010 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Are librarians allowed to date patrons?

The only relevant section I noticed in the ALA Code of Ethics was:

VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users...

Which seems to permit a variety of readings.
posted by Joe Beese to Work & Money (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's an unusually pessimistic reading of 'dating' that has it advancing your interests at the expense of the other party.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2010 [28 favorites]

I'm working from a small sample size, but yes, absolutely.

I imagine that "VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users..." would apply more along the lines of not selling info for marketing purposes or not stalking patrons etc.
posted by codswallop at 9:39 PM on June 10, 2010

My buddy married his local public librarian.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you an elementary school librarian?
posted by lockestockbarrel at 9:43 PM on June 10, 2010 [109 favorites]

The alternative would be that you would be required to date somebody who lives outside your library's tax base, or who doesn't use the library. And those would be onerous demands.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:54 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

The only ethical (or practical) concerns would depend on an individual institution's code of conduct for its employees. At some (but probably not all or even most) colleges or universities, dalliances with students might be considered a big deal, and a dallying librarian (whether s/he's considered staff or faculty) could get reprimanded or fired. Elsewhere, folks would just be like, "Would you look at that lucky student, dating that delightful librarian."

But that's not really about the ethics of the profession (unless the librarian is making the paramour's library record publicly available or something).
posted by 2or3things at 10:07 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

This almost seems like a gag post, as the implication identified by Pope Guilty is essentially, whom else would they date? A rather traditional library motto is "Free to All."
posted by dhartung at 10:09 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I married a patron. Still have the job (and husband) 20 years later. It was never an ethical issue.
posted by fifilaru at 10:09 PM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

As long as you don't clear his late fines, I'm not sure what the issue would be.
posted by GilloD at 10:11 PM on June 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Libraries might have rules against accepting gratuities, and even a cup of coffee could be seen as a gratuity, I guess, but that's a pretty obsessive interpretation.
posted by Some1 at 10:17 PM on June 10, 2010

Most of the rules about who can date whom, as far as I understand, are to do with either imbalances of power or perceptions of unfair advantage. I can't really see either of these being an issue in this situation.
posted by damonism at 10:31 PM on June 10, 2010

A rather traditional library motto is "Free to All."

This of course refers to the library's resources, not the librarians.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:50 PM on June 10, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'm sure librarians get hit on often, and libraries are notorious for having a few "strange" people who spend a lot of time there.

I could well imagine a "hot" librarian telling a patron "I'm sorry, but we are not allowed to date patrons" rather than lie about an imaginary boyfriend which might invite further conversation.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:52 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both my mom and my wife's mom were librarians and neither of us would exist if they couldn't date patrons. Or perhaps we would be Peruvians or egrets. I'm not completely sure of the metaphysical implications.
posted by Lame_username at 11:24 PM on June 10, 2010 [18 favorites]

[As a cataloger in special libraries - I never work at ref or circ desks - this is sort of a dream situation. That special patron never wends his way into the tech offices!]

Reading the code of ethics - which doesn't directly address your situation - I see nothing that prohibits you from dating a patron, except maybe (at a stretch) VI, as you noted. But that doesn't mean there aren't other ethical considerations, of which you're no doubt aware. That's maybe where the first part of "I. We provide the highest level of service to all library users. . ." might conflict with dating a patron. S/he can't get the highest level of service if s/he thinks s/he'll be hit on at the library.

That's a delicate line. I hope it works out for you both.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:28 AM on June 11, 2010

Sorry for assuming this was a personal situation.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:34 AM on June 11, 2010

Reader, I married him.

I did have to make it very clear to my librarian husband from day one of dating that under no circumstances was he to look up my history of overdue books and fines. *shame*

Of course, libraries hold other possibly sensitive information about patrons - addresses, etc, which may raise some ethical issues. punsorry
posted by Catch at 2:19 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

This is, of course, assuming you are talking about a public (or school) librarian. I'm an academic librarian with faculty standing, and many of my patrons are undergraduates, some of whom are taking courses from me. In that case, dating my patrons would be unethical, but not because of the librarian element. I could date almost any faculty member, administrator, or staff member without ethical issues.

No idea what the rules would be for corporate librarians; I suspect it would vary job by job.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:01 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are two questions here, it seems. 'Are librarians allowed to date patrons?' and 'Is it ethical for librarians to date patrons?'

The first can be answered in a few words--it depends on the individual institution. Generally, school and academic libraries are most likely to have policies in place, for obvious reasons.

The second is a question about which reasonable and well-meaning people might have different opinions.
posted by box at 4:45 AM on June 11, 2010

Of course they can. Although, sometimes you have to wonder why a patron would date a librarian.

There are more library situations than just the classic public librarian. In my time in academic libraries, I've known many librarians who dated/are married to faculty, administrators, and other non-student staff who would totally qualify as patrons.

Age considerations matter, though, so it would probably be frowned on should a 30 year old librarian date a 19 year old college student.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:04 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Isn't that why we all became librarians in the first place?
posted by Blake at 5:59 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

In an ideal world, everyone would be a library patron. Ergo, forbidding dating between librarians and library patrons would condemn librarians to celibacy.
posted by Vorteks at 7:27 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes. Private interests in the code of ethics [the full quote of which is "We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions."] mostly has to do with business interests, is my understanding. So if you are a librarian and also a Rotarian, you do not only hire Rotarians in the library because of your affiliation. If you are a Mormon, you do not advance Mormonism at the expense of other religions because to do so would be advancing your private interests. Obviously there are cases where it is judicious to not date patrons, as in the academic library example given, there may already be rules about that sort of thing, but generally speaking and especially in public libraries, you can date whoever you want. Everyone can find lulzy examples of when people flip out about the librarian's private life [the librarian dominatrix comes to mind] but these are people being small-minded.

That said, the ALA Code of Ethics specifically states "These statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations." The ALA is not a governing body for libraries, though it does accredit library schools, and does not set policy for libraries in the US. They can make suggestions, they do not make rules.

And yes, I have dated patrons. I think a lot of us have either because that's how we meet people or the peopel we are dating become patrons after the fact because we suggest that it might be an awesome idea. And most people are library patrons somewhere, even if they're not our patrons.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Only if the patron loves her madly.
posted by charlesv at 8:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know a number of cases of librarians and patrons meeting in academic libraries and then dating. You may know of this (fictitious) case: However the patrons involved in the cases I'm aware of personally were graduate students or faculty so perhaps that's somewhat less discouraged than academic librarians and undergraduates.
posted by tractorfeed at 9:24 AM on June 11, 2010

Thank you, everyone, for the helpful answers.

To clarify my position: I've been married to a non-librarian for 12 years and plan to stay that way - so this is a purely hypothetical question.

I apologize to anyone who thought it was a stupid one. But I imagine that it would be frowned on by one's supervisor - if not the breaking of a written rule - for a police officer to ask out a burglary victim while searching their home for clues. So it didn't strike me as inconceivable that another city employee working directly with the public might be similarly discouraged from any behavior that might complicate the public's access to services.

I'm glad to hear that romance blossoms so fruitfully in the shade of the stacks.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:34 AM on June 11, 2010

Bit late to the party, but one of the three public libraries I worked in explicitly forbade dating patrons in the rules.
posted by QIbHom at 10:17 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, so what if you started dating someone and then they decided to go to that library? Do you have to stop dating? Does the non-librarian get locked out of the library? That's just weird.
posted by theichibun at 10:39 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

theichibun, I think the rule was there as much so we could say, "I'm so sorry. Library rules forbid getting a cup of coffee with you" to creeps as for anything else. It did make for a nice way to turn someone down, and librarians are often strangely obsessed with being "nice" (see also the original definition of "nice").

In the 5 years I was there, it never came up. This was in an area with a lot of public libraries, most of which had cross-checkout agreements, so going to another library would have been very easy. We had a lot of rules there. Wearing hats was forbidden, but the reference librarian who wore vintage women's hats was never told not to (yes, she did it, in part, to flout the silly rule). I once had a patron I'd spent a lot of time helping with writing her resume walk in while I was helping another patron and hand me an envelope before walking out. It contained a thank you note and two theatre tickets, which I was forbidden to accept. I didn't know her full name, and my director just shrugged and told me to enjoy the play.

We also used to joke that you weren't doing good patron service if you didn't break the rules at least once a day. We were encouraged to bend or break rules when patrons gave us a good reason to ("I'm sorry. These books are one day overdue because I was giving birth yesterday." And, yes, I forgave her fines. She had the baby with her.)
posted by QIbHom at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2010

And most people are library patrons somewhere, even if they're not our patrons.
Would that it were true.
posted by sanko at 10:45 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older (What)ShouldIEat(With)ThisFilter   |   Fixed one wi-fi setup, broke another... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.