Talk delivered to the Board of Trustees of the Fairfield County District Library on October 21, 2008.

My name is Bob Neinast. I'm the one who prompted the earlier request to remove your shoe rule. I'd like to try again in person. When you decided to keep the rule, I was told that the reason was "decorum," so I'd mainly like to address that.

Here's an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln, which you can find in Tab 1:

Abraham was hungry for intellectual food. He walked twelve miles to David Turnham's home to obtain a copy of the laws of Indiana. A man accused of committing murder was arraigned at Booneville, the county seat, fifteen miles distant. Abraham attended the trial. He had great respect for the judge, who represented the majesty of the law. He listened with intense interest to the argument of Mr. Breckenridge, the lawyer who defended the accused man. When the argument was finished there occurred a scene for an artist. Abraham Lincoln, tall, slim, with bare feet, wearing buckskin trousers and a jean coat, walked across the room and shook hands with him. "That is the best speech I ever heard," he said.

Abraham Lincoln would not be welcome in this library.

In Tab 2 there is an 1871 article about Johnny Appleseed, who plied his wares all throughout Central Ohio. Johnny Appleseed, an Ohio hero, would not be welcome in this library.

Early Ohio actually has a history of numerous barefooted people. Hervey Scott's "A Complete History of Fairfield County, Ohio", available right here in this library, describes the everyday people. In the reminiscence of Samuel Kester, of Amanda Township, in Tab 3:

It was no uncommon thing for the young people to go to church, or "meeting," as it was called then, barefooted; and older people too, in some instances. The reason for this was the scarcity of shoes, as well as the inability on the part of the people to always command the means of paying for them.

They would not be welcome in this library.

Dictating "decorum" is really rather tricky. We can look at the 1970s, when school administrators were absolutely convinced that "decorum" required short hair on boys. Again, historically, long hair and beards on men were common, but in the mid-20th century, fashions had changed. In a well-known at the time court case, Jackson v. Dorrier, the Court said:

There is evidence to support the conclusion that the wearing of excessively long hair by male students at Donelson High School disrupted classroom atmosphere and decorum, caused disturbances and distractions among other students and interfered with the educational process. Members of faculty of Donelson High School testified that the wearing of long hair by Jackson and Barnes was an obstructing and distracting influence to a wholesome academic environment.

The "excessively long hair" in this case reached his shoulders. The thing is, Jackson appears to have been a typical reprobate (I'm sure you're familiar with the type, Dr. Callihan). Jackson lost his case (a copy is in Tab 4), but there were plenty of other cases from the time in which the Courts correctly determined that "decorum" was independent of hair length.

I really don't see why a library should care what we have on our feet. It seems pretty arbitrary. For instance, the rule objects to bare feet, but flip-flops, which expose just as much of the foot, are perfectly OK.

And this prohibition seems to be a pretty recent. In the Canton Library in Stark County, their Right-to-Read program in the 1970s actually utilized bare feet. From a description of their program:

Among the promotional techniques employed, two are worth mention; sometimes the simplest idea creates the biggest impact. The simple idea was: feet. Paper feet in gay colors were stuck on walls, door, windows, cupboards, railings, catalogs, and ceilings. Waterproof feet led from the sidewalk to the front door of the Children's Department. Feet with tennis shoes, horseshoes, shoes for tiny feet and big feet — even bare feet led to books, books, and more books.

And there's a footnote that says, "The Adult Department still calls attention to library hours with a large, bare foot next to the sign on the front door." (There's a copy of this report in Tab 5). If you go to look at it, you will see that I got that copy at the State Library of Ohio. Barefoot. In fact, I've also been to the Stark County Library. The barefoot images are long gone, but they still have no problem with barefooted patrons. A lot of libraries seem to do just fine without deciding that they have to dictate the "decorum" of barefooted patrons. Some of the libraries I've been in barefooted (because they have no rule) include

The very handouts you are looking at are products of libraries; libraries I've been able to access shoeless. I've also been to the Smithsonian, and the U.S. Capitol, the Statehouse, and "decorum" was not compromised. I do all my shopping barefooted; and "decorum" survives.

All sorts of different fads and fashions are allowed in here. We've already discussed the change in men's hair styles. I don't see any prohibition on green hair. I don't see any prohibition on tattoos. I don't see any prohibition on extreme facial piercings. It appears to me that the shoe rule is just an arbitrary example of cherry-picking. Why is this library intent on stopping this one particular trend? And all based upon a mere sliver of material that does not obstruct the view of a foot.

[Hold out my flip-flopped foot.]

And it is a trend. Just after the index I have a list of various newspaper articles about the barefooted trend. It makes no sense to me that the board feels that this trend, among all others, must be stopped.

Folks often have concerns in the area of health and safety, so I'd like to say just a little bit about that.

There have been studies that show that many, many of our foot problems have arisen from wearing shoes. Tab 6 contains one of those studies; there are additional studies cited just after the index.

High heels are especially damaging to feet: hallux valgus, corns, shortened achilles tendons, ankle sprains and tears. I never hear any call to ban them — folks are happy to give women that choice. Tab 7 has an article about those dangers.

Runners noticed that the introduction of fancy athletic footgear did nothing to reduce running injuries. I've included a review article in Tab 8 (it cites the important papers) that discusses how shoes confuse proprioception, how the plantar skin is particularly resistant to punctures, how running barefoot reduces ankle sprains. And in Tab 9 I've included one of those studies, which also discusses how cultures that regularly go barefoot just don't have the sorts of foot problems we do.

If you are concerned about athlete's foot, or bacteria, just remember that those organisms thrive in a warm, dark, moist environment . . . like the inside of a shoe. Athlete's foot is a shod disease; barefooted cultures don't have it. In Tab 10 I've included a study about puncture wounds that shows that those who get puncture wounds wearing shoes have to worry about an additional bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which resides in the shoe, being injected by the nail and infecting foot bones.

I'd like to end by stressing that feet are not the fragile things that myths perpetuate. Now, if you wear shoes all the time, there's a good chance they will get weak and misshapen. But they can be used barefoot for all sorts of things. In Tab 11 I've included a few pictures of some of the ways they can be used: tennis, hiking, rappelling. Tab 11

To sum up, is it your job to

How do you decide which ones you like or don't like, and is that your job to make that decision?

Or is it your job to provide library services to those patrons who wish to use library services and do not bother the other patrons?

Libraries are wonderful places for learning. I hope you have learned something a bit new and different today. Your Mission Statement says

The Fairfield County District Library shall be a center for lifelong choices of reading, entertainment, and informational materials with an emphasis on excellence in knowledge technologies; free and accessible resources; and customer service.

Please make it accessible to even those you may not like, or think odd, who none-the-less do not disturb other patrons.

And I ask that you revisit your shoe rule.

Thank you very much.