Monday, July 12, 2010

Bizarro security

Normally, to get into and out of a research library requires some variant of opening your bag to show a security guard. If the library in question is Jewish-themed, add to that the possible x-raying of said bag, if not a frisking with a metal detector. This is the general rule, which is why I was so surprised to find that one of the (seemingly infinite) French-Jewish libraries here has nothing beyond the usual signs warning you that you're under video surveillance. You just walk in, nod to the guard, and, at least assuming you look like someone who's spending the summer researching Jews, or look otherwise unthreatening,* off you go. There's no bag-checking, no food-and-pen policing (although I haven't seen anyone eating in the place, but it is France), no procedure of any kind.

That is, until today, when, as I was leaving - as opposed to entering - the library, I noticed the door wasn't opening. A guard who isn't the usual guard asked me if I worked there. I explained that I was doing research in the library (can't have been the first time this had happened) and had been for a couple weeks, and was then asked if I was on The List. There's a list? I gave my name, even though I knew I wasn't on any list, and it was confirmed that I'm not on the list. The guard then asked me again if I worked there and, because I hadn't to my knowledge been hired at the place in the past thirty seconds, I explained that I was just at the library to do research. This, this time around, was deemed acceptable, and the guard unlocked the door for me.

What I can't figure out is why, if there's going to be security, it would be at the exit, rather than the entrance. Normally, the fear with Jewish libraries is terrorism, not book theft, and at any rate none of the guard's questions had anything to do with books, nor did he have any interest in looking in my bag. Is there some kind of interrogation chamber you get sent to, rather than being allowed out, if your response is not adequate? Or is the punishment an overnight stay at the library? In which case, sign me up - the place closes at 6 normally, so this would mean extra, air-conditioned, hours with my sources.

*The most surprisingly pleasant thing about Paris - and a point in favor of travel - is that here, I'm, if not tall, then average height, and in platform sandals, taller than many men. And, without the usual population of broad-shouldered former high school athletes (French Women Don't Get Ripped), I'm not especially small here all-around. What this means is that I command more respect in public places than I do in my own native city. By this I mean, I don't have to step aside on the sidewalk for people whose line of sight doesn't register my existence, and I'm not crushed to a pulp on rush-hour trains. I could get used to this.

2 comments:

Glenn said...

The security at the door is to prevent book theft. I have encountered this when going to libraries/museums to do research in artist book collections.

Phoebe said...

Glenn,

That would be all well and good, as well as the obvious answer, had they either checked my bag or otherwise looked into whether I had any books. As I mention in the post ("Normally, the fear with Jewish libraries is terrorism, not book theft, and at any rate none of the guard's questions had anything to do with books, nor did he have any interest in looking in my bag."), this didn't happen.