For the past few months, East Baton Rouge Parish Library staff have allowed visitors to enjoy a cup of coffee or a snack while they read — testing the waters for a policy change that would officially allow food and drink in library branches.
Though no rules were changed at the time, staff were told not to enforce a systemwide ban on food or drinks when the new Main Library opened last year. There were no major issues, so in February, the rule was relaxed at all other branches in the parish, Library Director Spencer Watts told the Board of Control at its meeting Thursday.
The board will vote on the matter next month after officials rewrite the current rule in the official patron code of conduct.
Watts said the change would fall in line with a national trend toward making public libraries more like the relaxed atmosphere of bookstores, which often have a cafe inside.
“The libraries have casual seating and they might want to stay and read for a while, and people might like to have coffee or light food,” Watts said.
Assistant Library Director Mary Stein said allowing food and drinks was the No. 1 request from adults when the library hosted focus groups before opening the new main location.
Another reason officials are considering changing the rule is because there is space at the Main Library for a cafe in partnership with BREC, though a vendor has not been selected yet. Once the cafe opens, people are bound to bring food or drink from there into the library, Watts said.
Snacks like crackers or cookies would be OK under the new rule, but not full meals. Visitors should also leave fragrant, messy or distracting foods at home, Watts said.
Food and drinks will remain off-limits near computers, display counters and bookcases to avoid damaging property.
Watts said there have only been two or three instances of people abusing the relaxed rule since the new Main Library opened. In those cases, staff members asked the people to take their food outside.
Most people, however, bring beverages, not food, Watts said.
But James George, a local lawyer, told the board that he once saw a group of people eating fried chicken in the library. He said he doesn’t see why people need to have food while they’re in the library, and he’s concerned about potential messes people would leave behind.
“I come from a generation where if you made a sound in the library, you got a tap on the shoulder,” George said.
Watts acknowledged some people will test the limits of the new rule and said staff members will be given guidelines for enforcing the policy.
“We’re not promoting ourselves as a snack place,” Watts said.