leaving des moines

Des Moines Public Library

note: new update from Des Moines PL and the architect’s office below the fold. Short form: “it would be appropriate to change the policy”

I had a great time at the Iowa Library Association conference. I gave two talks and actually scheduled my time such that I could actually attend a few presentations as well as give some. My notes for two talks — Tiny Tech and On-the-Fly Tech Support — are online here. I saw a presentation by the new ALA OIF director about privacy in the age of social software as well as a gadgets talk where I learned more about ebooks.

I also had some time to go to the local public library. I’m often surprised that the local libraries don’t do much to acknowledge that there is a huge library conference in town. Most of the time when I go to the local public library when I’m visiting a new city, there isn’t even a “welcome librarians!” sign out. Karen Schneider [who gave a great keynote in the morning and a talk about open source later in the day] and I actually had a sort of weird experience there. We went in to the library, snapping photos as we do, and were met as we walked in by a library worker who basically asked “Are you taking pictures?” When we said that we were, she said that we weren’t allowed to take photos in the library and if we wanted to get permission to take photos we’d have to go talk to the marketing people up on the third floor.

We were just on a fly-by so we (mostly) put our cameras away. However, I was curious about the policy. I had an email exchange with the marketing director that I am reprinting here with permission. I’m not sure what to think about the whole situation. You’ll note I took a photograph or two anyhow, and I appreciated the very nice email, but it was in stark contrast to both a weird-seeming policy and a weird-seeming policy enforcement mechanism.

My note

Hi — I’m visiting Des Moines from central Vermont and stopped by the library because I’d heard some neat things about your new building. I took a few photos and walked inside. There I was met by a librarian (or someone at the desk) who said “Were you taking photos? You can’t take pictures in here. You have to talk to the lady in marketing if you want to take pictures in here.”

I was a little surprised, both that you have such a policy [which I didn’t see any signs about] and that the person who was your front desk staffer was so rude about it. I checked the website and found this notice: “Your attendance at Des Moines Public Library programs
may be digitally recorded through photographs or video recordings.” I assume this is staff photography?

I was curious if you could let me know a few things

1. If this is, in fact, the policy and if so, I’m curious why do you have such a policy?
2. Where is this policy spelled out either in your library or on the web site? I went to the policy page but after downloading a few policies I couldn’t find this one.
3. Do you mind if I publish your comments in part or in whole on my website? Okay to say no, but I’d like to open up a conversation about this.

I did enjoy my trip to the library but this was a strange event unlike any I’ve experienced in a major metro public library. Just curious what your side of the whole story is. Thanks for your time.


Reply of Jan Kaiser Marketing Manager (spacing was in the original. She also attached the meeting room policy which I didn’t find online but is similar to the information contained on their website here)

Jessamyn–Thanks so much for writing to us about your experience here at the Des Moines Public Library and please accept my apology for the bad impression you may have taken away.

We will certainly look into how the staff member approached you and we do apologize for any rudeness.

Our photo policy is part of our meeting room policy which I will attach. This meeting room policy was rewritten just prior to our opening of the building in April of 2006. At that time, the architect was very sensitive to photos being taken and the possibility of them being used for commercial purposes, so we added the following:

“Permission to photograph the library reading rooms and other public areas of the building may be granted by the library director or her designee. Photographs and videos may not include library signage or the library logo, and photographing may not disrupt library customers’ use of the library. Library employees on duty may not be photographed for political campaigns. Fees for commercial photographs of the library may be established by the library director, subject to the approval of the Board of the Trustees.”

I agree that this policy should be on our web site and thank you for alerting us to the problem. Whether or not this policy is still appropriate is something that the management team can certainly re-examine.

As to publishing the comments, that would be fine as I would be interested in responses.

I hope the rest of your time in Des Moines is enjoyable. Thanks.

Jan Kaiser
Marketing Manager

515-283-4103 VM
515-237-1654 FX

P BE GREEN Please don’t print this e-mail unless necessary!

update from Jan Kaiser


As I promised in my email last Friday, we discussed the library’s photo policy at our administrative team meeting yesterday and our team agreed that it would be appropriate to change the policy. (The policy was actually put in place by a prior administration.) I am sure that you will understand that since the policy is part of our meeting room policy which is approved by the board, it will need to be added to the board agenda prior to an official change. It has already been added to next month’s agenda.

I would like to clarify that AT NO TIME has the Des Moines Public Library had a NO PHOTOGRAPHY policy as has been claimed in some of the blog correspondence that I have seen. The policy is simply, Permission to photograph the library reading rooms and other public areas of the building may be granted by the library director or her designee. Photographs and videos may not include library signage or the library logo, and photographing may not disrupt library customers’ use of the library.

You will be happy to know that currently we have a film crew in our building (who we had given enthusiastic permission to last week prior to your visit and your subsequent and extensive blog correspondence) taking photos that will be used in an upcoming issue of KNITTING magazine.

I trust you will post this email on your blog. I would also encourage you to share with your blog and FLICKR fans that they can find an extensive array of interior photos of our beautiful library at: http://www.dmpl.org/images/interior%20web%20gallery/index.htm There is also a wonderful selection of exterior photos at: http://www.dmpl.org/images/exterior%20web%20gallery/index.htm

Thanks! Jan

p.s. I will be sure to send you a note following our next board meeting to let you know the new policy.

update from Jessica Strachan, Communications staffer for David Chipperfield Architects

Dear Jessamyn

I would like to add to Jan’s message by saying that, while David Chipperfield Architects may have asked for restrictions to be placed on photography when the library was newly opened, this was only ever intended to control commercial photography of the building, and not to stop interested visitors taking photographs of the library.

Thanks for setting off a lively debate – lots to think about!

Kind regards,

Jessica Strachan
for David Chipperfield Architects

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