Tom Witherow: The Library Gestapo

In a period of heightened tension the Library’s Orwellian machine is revving up surveillance. wonders how far Big Brother will go to keep you at your desk…

Do you dare risk a Library coffee break? This Panopticonic hotbox of deceit and CCTV, every move must be calculated… But you know the Library Gestapo will get you in the end. You may get away with it once, smugly sitting in the Library Café supping loudly on your well-earned latte. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for days, but sooner or later they will get you. The fateful note left on your desk: “we are watching you and your wasteful ways.”

It is always at night – the arrests invariably happen at night. The sudden jerk out of sleep, the rough hand shaking your shoulder, the lights glaring in your eyes, the ring of hard faces round the desk, barking delight into walkie-talkies. In the vast majority of cases there is no trial, no report. Laptops simply disappear. The humble librarian revels in the power his leaflets grant him.

And then there is the noise. ‘We do not care for your studious buzz here.’ Cough too loudly and they’ll be there – the Library Gestapo tapping you on the shoulder, summoned by an unknown complainer, stewing quietly in a corner, too engrossed in work to cross the room and politely ask for quiet. But then who would risk leaving their desk, even if only for a second? They are watching.

It was Monday night when I saw my first arrest. The JB Morrell – gentle whispers of steam rose from a Cup-a-Soup. The innocence of a slice of bread being carefully unboxed from its Tupperware, before being dipped in the evil substance. People glanced around: “what is he thinking?! Hot food in a ‘Quiet Zone’!” And lo They were there. Another unseen complainer has succumbed to Library Hate and texted the Hate Line. My Cup-a-Soup-drinking neighbour’s Library Card revoked, he slunk off across Library Bridge, an exile from Library Society.

You’re not obliged to take part in Library Hate, but it is apparently impossible to avoid joining in. Whether it’s talking, tapping or smelly feet, a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, flows like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing lunatic, sending angry messages to @OverheardYork, drilling and humiliating your neighbour on ‘Spotted in the Harry Fairhurst’, even texting the Library Gestapo themselves. And yet the rage that one feels is an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one library user to another like the flame of a blow lamp. Gaspers, raspers, coffee slurpers, foot tappers, those with bad breath, those who breathe. No one is safe.

What will be next? A drooping eye lid and you may be moved on. Facebook use is surely out – what ever made you think that Library bandwidth should be used for such frivolity? Library danger sex is all that remains, the final bastion of non-compliance and rebellion…


  1. Classic. Someone should start a campaign of non-compliance

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  2. So you can’t monopolise seats for hours at a time and actually have to be quiet and do some work. Boo bloody hoo.

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  3. 24 Apr ’13 at 6:44 pm

    Spotted lover

    Just popped up on my timeline:

    First they came for the books,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a book.
    Then they came for the pens,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a pen.
    Then they came for the bags,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a bag.
    Then they came for me,
    and by that time there was no one
    left to speak up for me.

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  4. Gestapo, really? Yeah having your stuff moved from your library desk is exactly like being taken from your home in the middle of the night and sent to a forced labour camp without trial because of your religion/race/sexuality etc

    (To the inevitable replies, yes I understand it’s supposed to be a ‘joke’, but it’s in horrible taste)

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  5. Although I get why this has been implemented, I can also understand why people are annoyed about it. If you go to grab a coffee around lunch time it’s not impossible that you’ll be gone for half an hour and have your stuff moved by an irate librarian. That would be damn annoying. Love how dramatic this is, gave me a good laugh xD

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  6. 27 Apr ’13 at 1:07 pm


    Do people not remember how hellish it was last year, when people were leaving their things at 11pm to go home, then get the same seat at 9am when they came back? Or bringing hot food and takeaway into the library, distracting us all with the smells and leaving grease on the desks so when you put your notes down they went transparent? And God forbid if you did a course with more than a couple of hours of contact time. By the time morning lectures were finished with, there was no hope of getting a study space at 12pm.

    Seriously – 30 minutes is perfectly adequate for a smoke/coffee/quick trip to Costcutters for an overpriced sandwich/trip for a textbook/phone call to your mum in fits of despair about how much work you have an how little time you have to do it in. If you want to be gone for longer, take your things and free up your seat for someone else who wants to study. Besides, taking a study break now and again is supposed to be good for you

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  7. It’s behaviour week. The library is a place to study – not be loud, eat food, and reserve seats for hours on end. Get over the “Library Gestapo”, or at least think of a more appropriate name for them, you whiny kids.

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  8. The real Gestapo may well have been opposed to people behaving rottenly in the library, but that’s not widely considered to be what made them bad.

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