Unconcealed flatulence in Public Libraries
On Monday Jun 20th the following question on flatulence aka farting and many, many other expressions was offered to the PubLib ListServe :
I have a patron who comes to use our computers fairly regularly to surf the internet. Another thing he does regularly is to pass gas loudly while using the computer and not thinking anything of it. Does the library have a right to insist that he stop this or does he have a right to perform this “natural” bodily function? He also does not hesitate to belch on occasion. … He lifts his “cheek” and lets it fly… Sometimes they just don’t pay me enough. ~ Sam
Sam did not specify if the repeated offense by the computer surfer was simply noise related or also smell related. He also did not state a policy on flatulence for staff and trustees. If library staff or trustees frequently expel gas, does it make a noise?
However, if the issue is merely olfactory inconvenience, Benjamin Franklin in his letter to The Royal Academy of Farting c. 1781 provided some enlightened observations on the occurrence of gas along with a possible solution:
It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.
That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.
That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.
That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.
My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.
If Ben Franklin had successfully invented a drug that resulted in the patron expelling perfumes, would the expulsion of gas still be considered offending? If offense is based on quantity rather than quality of the gas emitted – what means of measurement would be appropriate for setting flatulence limits in a Public Library?
Publib readers offered their own suggestions :
Have you tried the three strikes rule? If you have three patrons in your library who complain about his gaseous behavior, perhaps you can then tell him to stop. Then, if he does not stop, it is your right to remove him from the property if he is being a nuisance to others. ~ Ford Simmons, MLIS
Perhaps a personalized seat cushion for this person, with an activated charcoal insert?? Just kidding, I guess…. ~ George Hazelton
I just wanted to bring up the possibility that he may have some sort of medical issue (for instance, irritable bowel syndrome) that puts his gassiness out of his control. You may want to consider what you will do if it turns out that he isn’t just being gross and rude, but actually can’t control the need to pass gas. ~ Heather Backman
why dont you just connect him up and use the gas to power the library? ~ Alan Wylie
Are the farts typically the low whistle variety, or more like the puttering of a motor bike? This is just me, of course, but I find that those of a lower register can have a soothing effect, if sustained. And, wouldn’t you know it, they often are sustained. P.S. I find the word “fart” to be off-putting. I prefer “boop.” ~ Joseph J. Cadieux
Sam, it sounds like you have more to work with here than just his “tooting.” He’s clearly making himself a nuisance, not merely (possibly) having a health issue. He’s driving patrons away from the library with his behavior, which does not make him a benign member of the community. I say start with a short ban with threats of further, longer ones if he doesn’t correct himself. ~ Brett Rohlwing
We always take the stance that if other patrons complain, the offending patron is creating an unpleasant environment for them and can be asked to stop it. If nobody else complains, you do have a quandary. ~ Tom Cooper Editors note: There is historic precedent to pay people such as Le Pétomane to fart. In absence of complaints – might there even be approval of flatulence as the work of a fartiste ?
Probably qualifies as “offensive behavior” if other patrons complain. Body odor is “natural,” but we speak up about that in response to complaints. ~ Darrell Cook
I would even venture to say that you don’t need to wait for a patron complaint. If it’s bothering your staff, that’s good enough. ~ Manya Shorr
His right to pass gas ends at the end of your nose. If it was a one or two time event, he can be forgiven, but he is intentionally being offensive. Someone with that problem, knows when decorum dictates that he venture into the restroom to relieve himself of the gas. He is making it difficult for others to use the Library, and thus needs to be asked to leave, and not come back for two days. If he comes back and repeats his behavior, lengthen the time away. He’ll either get the message, or he won’t have use of his library. Either way, your other patrons (and your staff) win. ~ Jeff Imparato
Just, of course, proceed with tact. This can be an unfortunate side effect of some surgery ..became a regular thing for my Dad after his gall bladder was removed. Mortified him, so we all sort of pretended it wasn’t happening.It’s a dicey conversation at best, the more so if your patron can’t help himself… good luck!! ~ Sara Weissman
A popular culture interpretation of issues surrounding public expulsion of gas is expressed in Fox Television’s animated series The Family Guy:
Public Library Patron Flatulence
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