The main con that comes with the double-edged sword of remote work is isolation from in-person human contact. You can socialize just fine, to an extent, through applications like Slack, but there's also something to be said for having some in-person socialization throughout the day. Therefore shared workspaces and things like that have a solid purpose.

However whereas shared workspaces can be expensive, public libraries are free. So assuming someone just needs their laptop to work, and not two huge monitors or anything else like that - assuming they can just throw everything in a normal-sized laptop bag - what's stopping them from using the public library 8 hours a day, 5 days a week indefinitely?

(Just to be clear, I'm not talking about chatting with people throughout the day. It's just the idea of having other people in close proximity, as an ambient aspect, and that sort of thing in general. Occasionally having someone to nod to while walking by and that kind of thing. The thing that's being avoided is being completely alone inside one's apartment all day or something.)

Libraries will often have free wi-fi, a free place to charge the laptop, free everything except coffee. And if it's just the occasional person doing this, they probably won't mind. However, especially considering the work-from-home situation with COVID-19, what's stopping these places from being swarmed and overcrowded indefinitely with people of this nature?

In particular, in a typical US municipality, what legal setup blocks public libraries from being swarmed by people using them indefinitely as free work offices? What are the normal legal limits that allow libraries to get used like this in moderation, while preventing them from getting overrun?

FWIW, the main reason this has come to my mind is that, for certain reasons, I've been spending a few weeks on the other side of the US from where I live. During this time, I've found working inside the local library to be usually fairly preferable to working inside the hotel/hostel. So much so, that it's tempting to keep doing this once I'm back home next week, and I'm wondering how much is too much, and how that's reflected in a typical legal setup.

This question was suggested as a duplicate: Legal Doubts Regarding Park Rules

The important thing here is that I am not talking about breaking any rules. The second the library tells me to pack up the computer, I will. However no such limit has been imposed for several days, and they've actually acted fairly friendly and accommodating up to this point.

Therefore, is there anything in the law (in a typical setup) that places a major limit on this type of usage? If it is nothing more than just simply waiting until the library staff say something, then that answers the question. I just want to make sure there's nothing in a typical legal setup that places a meaningful limit on this.

  • Does this answer your question? law.stackexchange.com/questions/61107/…
    – SJuan76
    Feb 15, 2021 at 16:51
  • 3
    What prevents any public space from being over crowded? Occupancy limits, fire codes and simple permission to be there. Feb 15, 2021 at 16:56
  • 1
    My local public library realized that many people were coming in just to use the Wi-Fi; they responded by lining several of the walls with desks with power outlets.
    – arp
    Feb 21, 2021 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


First point: During the pandemic, most libraries have ceased in person services and only do downloads, pre-arranged loans, pick up and drop off.

Second point: In non-pandemic times, typical U.S. municipal library is a somewhat odd mix of young children with parents or nannies, homeless people, remote workers who don't need to talk on the phone much, retirees, and middle school and high school students studying and reading for pleasure (with the studying more common among students whose home situations aren't well suited to studying due to poverty, many siblings or housemates, or noisy family members or neighbors who play instruments). Libraries are usually incentivized to be well occupied as it helps when they seek municipal budget contributions or tax levies.

FWIW, I've used municipal libraries for lengthy research projects as a lawyer now and then, both in times when I've been between offices (e.g. at one point tenant finish wasn't done at my new office but my old lease has expired and I was mostly working from home), and when I need to concentrate and the phone and colleagues interrupting me with innocent reasonable questions that aren't urgent keep interrupting me.

Third point: It is rare in practice for libraries to be overwhelmed with remote workers, in part, because you can't really talk on the phone or attend Zoom meetings, or meet with people. It is also poor for spreading out with a lot of dead tree paper, especially if filing is necessary. Coffee shops which allow for talking and allow food and drink are more popular and commonly used by low volume realtors and lawyers without offices (I used them for meetings when I was a newly admitted solo practitioner), day traders, freelance and novel writers, graduate students, etc. The prohibition on talking and on consuming food and drinks in the library mostly solves the problem. Also, lots of remote workers don't want to work someplace that has little children squealing during story time and lots of homeless people. In my experience, the most common kind of remote workers in municipal libraries are day traders.

It is much more common for municipal libraries in the U.S. (which are one of the only places you can just be without spending money) to come up with ways to limit homeless people (or to better accommodate them) than to boot them out. Many municipal libraries in urban areas have hired social workers in lieu of security staff to regulate things, place limits on sleeping in the place, and sometimes place a maximum number of hours in place.

CLOSING THOUGHT: Libraries are publicly owned property, and as such, library managers have not only the regulatory authority of a representative of the government, but also all of the rights of a property owner at their disposal legally. This gives them wide discretion to adopt and enforce rules that couldn't be imposed otherwise.


Most if not all libraries have occupancy limits. Many have time limits on usage of their computers. Some have time limits on use of their WiFi connections. If a library is often becoming overcrowded, the library administration could add a rule limiting usage time, if they so chose.

A public library is usually not a great place to socialize, as conversation is usually discouraged. But this may vary.

Just now, of course, many libraries are closed altogether, but some are open. They may limit occupancy more than usual.


You must log in to answer this question.