There's a purse using this computer, and a stack of books and a Pepsi using the one in the corner....
March 5, 2012 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to everyone's help, I've taken steps towards creating a more welcoming hospital library. Now help me discourage library users from leaving their stuff at the computers all day - in the least passive-aggressive way possible.

I work in a small hospital library that is increasingly busy. We have 10 computers, which is usually sufficient to meet demand. Yet some library users have taken to leaving their bags, books, and other belongings at a computer and then leaving for some length of time (sometimes 6-8 hours+). Which means I get to move people's belongings and deal with the occasional fallout. How can I politely discourage users from doing leaving their stuff around without making people feel unwelcome in the library?

The small, close-knit, rural nature of our location means that everyone feels safe leaving their belongings around. So appeals to "protect your stuff" from theft will produce only laughter.

I'll communicate with folks face-to-face as much as possible, but I'd like some kind of sign to promote this message when the library is unstaffed (all weekend, between 5 pm and 8:00 am during the week, my vacation). Wording suggestions are particularly welcome.

I don't want to be the stereotypical passive-aggressive librarian here! Hivemind, please help!
posted by brackish.line to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Why can't you post a straightforward note that says something like:

"Please don't leave your belongings unattended at a computer, others may need to use the space."
posted by OmieWise at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Use computer desks that are too small for storing stuff.

Find out why people are storing things here - are the other areas of the hospital hostile to storing things, yet there's a need to set down bags? Is the hospital missing something?
posted by zippy at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

"If you're going to be leaving the computer, please take your belongings with you, as someone else may need to use the station."
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2012

Perhaps add some sort of cubbyholes near the door for people to leave their bags in? Maybe also some coat hooks, if people have jackets as well.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2012 [12 favorites]

You could maybe also leave a polite note saying that for security reasons, items left for longer than -- hours (you choose the time) will be kept behind the circulation desk until claimed by their owner. A little passive maybe, but if you take it from the "your-things-could-be-taken" standpoint?
posted by mamabear at 12:53 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

see if you can wrangle a set of cubbies and put them in the entry way you mentioned in your last post. Putting up a sign will not work unless you give people a place to put their stuff.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:54 PM on March 5, 2012

Thanks for the ideas. I have an empty bookshelf next to my cube (in the corner of the library), and I'll suggest that people leave their belongings there.
posted by brackish.line at 12:56 PM on March 5, 2012

Yeah I think the easiest way to do this is to have an alternate place for storing things whether its in your library or even working within the larger hospital on a suggestion for this. I would assume they're doing this because there isn't another place to put their things [and if there is, an indication of where that place is would be great] and so even something like cubbies or a four drawer filing cabinet right by the stations would be a better alternative than leaving things by the computers and possibly easier than people walking over to your cube, even though I think that's also a good idea.

If you feel that people are doing this accidentally [i.e. not trying to "claim" a computer or otherwise stake out a space] just let them know that you have to move their stuff for other users and here's an alternative where you don't have to do that. If you're getting fallout and it's a close friendly community, possibly mentioning that this is a concern to whoever it is a concern to [I wasn't sure if it was other users or to hospital administrators] will help you and the patrons move towards a solution together.
posted by jessamyn at 1:05 PM on March 5, 2012

zippy is right on the money with this one. If you want people to reliably stop doing something, you need to eliminate the root cause of the behavior, or at least make adhering to the rule easier than breaking it. I like the empty bookshelf idea, but it needs to be visible from where people sit when they are using the computers. That way, if you need to move stuff, they will be able to find it easily and it will reinforce the "correct" behavior.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2012

If people are nervous about leaving their stuff with you, you can borrow a tactic used by Powell's Books in Portland. (It's how they used to do it, at any rate... I haven't been there in ages, they might have changed.)

All you need is a deck of playing cards and some wooden clothespins. (The springy alligator kind.) Cut some playing cards in half. When you "check in" a bag, pin half the playing card to it. Then give the other half to the owner.
posted by ErikaB at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2012

"Please don't leave your belongings unattended at a computer, others may need to use the space."
The above suggestion is certainly polite but I believe people respond best when there there are clear expectations and follow through. I would say something like, "Please don't leave your belongings unattended at a computer, others may need to use the space. Items left unattended for longer than 1 hour (whatever amount of time) will be removed by library staff."

One warning about the empty bookshelf... I would caveat it with a sign stating that while people are welcome to leave items on the shelf, the library staff is not responsible for the items. You can't be sure that everyone who comes to pick up their stuff is in fact picking up the correct items.
posted by halseyaa at 1:31 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

All great suggestions, thanks!

Having read through this discussion, I'm realizing that the stickiest issue is that some folks *are* trying to stake out a space - they want their stacks of notes arranged for when they get back from rounds and go back to research/writing. (And my job is to encourage and support research and writing.) Office and storage space are extremely limited in our hospital - we literally have folks working in former supply closets - so there's no ready-made alternative. I guess I will just have to notify people that if they leave their stuff, it may get moved.

More suggestions are certainly welcome, and thanks again for the ideas!
posted by brackish.line at 2:20 PM on March 5, 2012

Having once spent a lot of time with a loved one in hospital, being able to leave my belongings somewhere and come back for them later was a valuable aspect of the ICU family room.

On preview, that this is staff changes my answer somewhat...

I recommend posting a note that unattended belongings can be moved to "this" table. That way, someone coming in on the weekend will feel empowered to move the Pepsi can or purse and those trying to claim a machine will get fair warning that their objects can't "hog" the computers.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 2:27 PM on March 5, 2012

Since you have people trying to do scholarly research but who have no place to store their notes, perhaps set aside two or three of the computers as pseudo-offices for scholars, reservable in advance (online or just a sign-in sheet in the library) in multi-hour blocks, but otherwise available? That way, you can serve the more transient users and meet the needs of the ones who need longer-term space.

Setting up lockers or cubbies makes sense too ('we are not responsible, etc').
posted by zippy at 2:36 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

brackish.line, it seems like you could combine a lot of the suggestions here by asking people to drop their extra stuff as they come in, on your empty bookshelf, but also preserving a "Moved Stuff" space in the same area (with signage at computers requesting that stuff be stowed in user's absence/stuff may be moved by subsequent users of monitors + "Staff can't be responsible for lost items" at bookcase).

If piles of notes are a problem, maybe you can issue temporary large numbered envelopes/clipboards/paperwork holders so that that folks can keep their materials together, and out of the way of other computer users? With a storage station for them?

Is there anything (else) you can add to the environment to emphasize the shared aspect of this space?
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:40 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like MonkeyToes' and zippy's ideas for working with the researchers who are leaving their notes. Maybe a few of the computers can be in research carrels with shelves, drawers, pigeonholes, or other good spots to leave notes and such. Researchers could sign up to "own" a drawer or a section of shelving for a period of time (one month? six months? in an academic context, I'd say one semester). Provide stands and props for notes or reference books, maybe a cork board for pinning up frequently-used bits of paper and a holder of some sort for pens, pencils, and highlighters. Tell each researcher who they're sharing their assigned carrel with, and make them responsible for cooperating with each other to either put their notes away or find another mutually-agreeable arrangement. Then keep the remaining computers for transient use, with a "please take your stuff with you or store it on this shelf by the circ desk" policy.
posted by Orinda at 3:06 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

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