Association of College & Research Libraries

No food, no drink, no noise

Elaine Clement is earth and mineral sciences librarian/cataloger at Pennsylvania State University (PSU); e-mail:; Patricia A. Scott is map specialist at PSU; e-mail:

As is probably the case with most other academic libraries, the University Libraries at the Pennsylvania State University are con- fronted with problems generated by food, drink, and noise. Patrons bring to the library many different behavior patterns. Students who have come from high schools where the library was also the cafeteria or the detention hall are of- ten not in the habit of leaving food or drinks and conversations outside the building. Our ex- pectations of what their behavior should be is often at odds with reality.

At the University Park Campus, concerns voiced by staff and faculty led to the formation of a group to investigate the problem and sug- gest solutions. The group was made up of fac- ulty and staff from public service areas in rare books, documents/maps, general reference, pe- riodicals, the science branch libraries, and the undergraduate library (a 24-hour facility.)

The campaign

In January of 1991 the group was convened by the assistant to the dean for public informa- tion. As participants traded stories about noise levels in quiet study areas and pizza deliveries made to study carrels, it be- came apparent that all libraries were plagued by the same problems in varying degrees. A dis- cussion of how staff in each of the branch libraries at University Park dealt with these problems revealed a lack of consistency among all the areas. Manystaff were reluctant to confront student offend- ers without a university-endorsed code of conduct for the li- braries. Staff mem- bers also felt un- comfortable about approaching co- workers who carry food and drink through the library during breaks or lunch.

At the end of our first meeting we had reached two decisions: 1) we needed a written code of conduct for patrons and staff to follow, and 2) we needed to make an organized and concerted effort to publicize it. Thus was born our “campaign” to curb food, drink, and noise problems in the libraries.

Group opinion varied widely on what standards we should adopt and how they should be enforced. Despite this, during spring 1991 the group was able to reach consensus and drafted a food and noise policy. We began by searching library literature for articles about similar campaigns and examined the policies found in ALA’s Spec Kit Number 144, Building Use Policies. We incorporated parts of these policies into our recommendations, adapting them to suit the needs of our institution.

Getting students involved

The group decided that eye-catching posters would be an effective way to educate students about the damage caused by the presence of food and drink and the disrupvtive effects of noise. We enlisted the help of a member of the graphic arts faculty, who allowed some of his students to use our campaign as a senior project. This idea of students designing for students appealed to the group because we felt it would have a greater impact on our primary audience.

The students designed posters, brochures, bookmarks, and buttons that used four graph- ics. Two graphics were aimed at noise control: one showed a picture of a lock and chain with the text “Laughing Learners Lock Your Lips!”; the other showed a clamp with the words “Clamorous Collegians Clamp Your Chops!" Both contained the tag line “Don't make noise in the library.” Two graphics targeted food and drink prob- lems. One showed a cockroach with the text “Ravenous Roaches Ravage Rootbeer and Rare Books!” The other showed a silverfish with the text “Salivating Silverfish Savor Sandwiches in the Stacks!” Each con- tained the line “Don’t eat or drink in the li- brary.”

In summer 1991, after presenting mock-ups of the posters at a session for library faculty and staff, the final draft of the “Food, Drink and Noise Policy” was submitted to the Librar- ies Academic Council.

In August, group members distributed post- ers and brochures to public service areas. The brochure stated the University Libraries’ mis- sion; explained how food, drink, and noise hinder our efforts; and gave costs for replacing damaged materials in a way which would be meaningful to students. For example, the money needed to repair five damaged library books is equivalent to the cost of twelve issues of Bill- board, or 45 issues of Rolling Stone, or 60 is- sues of the Wall Street Journal.

Printed publicity

During fall 1991, the group conducted a pub- licity campaign to acquaint users and staff with the policy. Articles appeared in the student newspaper, the student orien- tation guide, and in the university faculty and staff newsletter.

Bookmarks and but- tons were not distributed to public service desks until January 1992. An exhibit called “Trashing the Li- braries: The Preservation Problem” was mounted from late August through November in display cases in the lobby of the main li- brary. The exhibit showed trash collected from wastebaskets in public service areas. From Oc- tober 17 to October 24 a modular panel exhibit from the Commission on Preservation and Access was installed in the public catalog room. By phasing in promotional materials we hoped to maintain interest in the campaign.

In spring 1993, the group reconvened to as- sess the campaign’s impact. All agreed that the posters and other materials had helped to improve the situation, but in varying degrees. The undergraduate library had the most success in reducing food/drink/ noise incidents, largely due to the vigilance of its’ staff. All group mem- bers agreed that having a brochure to explain our policy made confronting offenders easier and more positive.

Some areas of the library reported little or no reduction in food, drink, and noise prob- lems. As expected, student cooperation has been harder to achieve in areas with large study tables or where few staff members are visible.

Two years after its inception, the “Univer- sity Libraries Code of Conduct” has been ap- proved. Training for faculty and staff on what the code means and how staff will be expected to handle food, drink and noise problems was scheduled for summer 1993.


The No Food, No Drink, No Noise Group mounted a campaign to heighten awareness of problems in the library. Our goal was to try to alleviate the problems through humor and non- confrontational means. In general, the group feels that the campaign was a success. A policy containing many specific recommendations for behavior was written and some of the suggestions were incorporated into a broad

“University Libraries Code of Con- duct,” which is now in place. A marketing plan was devised to phase in each aspect of the cam- paign at timed intervals. Some of our ideas for publicizing our policy had to be dropped due to lack of funds (i.e., plastic bags printed with our logo), while others could not be implemented until a written code of con- duct was approved (i.e., asking librarians to talk to students about the policy in orientation meetings and bibliographic instruction ses- sions).

The graphic designs we used worked very well for brochures, bookmarks, and buttons, but were not effective for communicating our message on posters. The messages “Don’t eat or drink in the library” and “Don’t make noise in the library” appeared in small print at the bottom of the posters. The small print was intended to provoke interest and encourage the viewer to take a closer look. One reason that people were not drawn to read the small print may have been because of the height at which many posters had to be hung.


The group recommends the following actions to others who want to institute a similar campaign in their library:

1) Have a code of conduct in place before you begin the campaign. Both patrons and employees must know what is expected of them.

2) Closely examine the kinds of problems most common in your library and where they occur.

3) Devise a plan to sell your campaign. Calculate your costs and explore free sources of assistance. Check to see if a class can help.

4) Time the campaign so that things are in place at the beginning of the fall semester.

5) Be prepared to rethink your position on food, drink, and noise issues. Achieving group consensus requires some compromise.

6) Gain administrative and staff commitment to the campaign. Signs alone won’t change behavior.

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