This afternoon in the library a trustee stopped to chastise me for allowing my children to be there without shoes on. "It's a policy," she told me. "It's for safety reasons."
In retrospect I'm pretty impressed that we merited correction from someone as important as a trustee, but at the time I was a little annoyed; not least because she interrupted us in the midst of doing the important work of getting our books checked out. And then of course there's the "safety" thing.
It probably would have been rude to get into it at the time, but to claim that the library doesn't want folks walking around with bare feet because the trustees are concerned for our well-being is completely ridiculous. There's no way that, inside a building, being shoeless is any more dangerous than the alternative. In fact, I bet it would be an order of magnitude more dangerous to be wearing high heels—and even then the worst that might happen would be a turned ankle, which I believe is a risk that we as a society are prepared to tolerate. And never mind that the boys were also barefoot at home, at the playground, and everywhere in between without any disaster befalling them; after pavement, wood chips, and acorn-studded lawn I think their feet could probably handle carpeted floors without too much trouble.
Not that I object to them wearing shoes in the library. It's a rule, and since we appreciate tremendously all that the library has to offer us I'm happy to follow whatever silly rules they come up with (at least when I think there's a chance of getting caught). But I do feel there's a real problem with claiming safety as a justification when any rational person can see that there's no real danger involved. Not only does it add one more little straw to the ever-growing pile of needless fears that we let modern life heap on us, it serves as an argument-proof club with which to beat those whose choices deviate from the norm. No shoes? Unsafe! Not driving your kids to school? Unsafe!! Giving birth at home? Terror!!
If the people behind all these norm-enforcing policies actually took the trouble to come up with real reasons for them they might have to think about what they were really after (which, in many cases, seems to be control). For the library, I'm sure it comes down to liability concerns and a distaste for seeing people's feet, which seems to be a thing. Those, we can talk about—and I'm confident that any discussion would lead to at least some misgivings on making policy based on either reason. Crying "safety" is just trying to short-circuit real thoughtful conversation.
I actually went through something similar last year, only it was my bare feet instead of the kids. The librarian who spoke to me initially told me it was against the law to be barefoot in a public building, which is patently false. I called her on that one (politely, of course!) and asked her to tell me the law in question, because I was curious. She enlisted the reference librarian and then admitted that it wasn't a law, but a library policy; and in doing so admitted that it was a little silly (the policy is actually for "acceptable footwear", so watch out if they really do start worrying about women in heels turning an ankle!). The made-up law thus served the same purpose as the safety argument: to keep the person enforcing it from having to think too hard about why this was supposed to be a problem in the first place.
I brought shoes along on every trip to the library since then, because I pay attention to rules that other people are important even when I find them a little ridiculous. And now that we've been spoken to, I'll try and remember to bring the boys' along too. Good thing it's forecast to start getting wintery soon; that'll help me remember, and give the boys a better reason to cram their feet into shoes than "you might get hurt". Because how could I expect them to believe that?!