why can't you sleep in a library?
Questions And Answers

Can You Sleep in A Public Library?

Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Louise Carter

While public libraries are open to anybody, there are limits to what is permitted in these institutions.

Very few public libraries operate 24-hour opening times, and it’s illegal to remain in a public library outside of opening hours. Doing so risks charges of trespassing.

Spending the night in an unstaffed public library may see you fall foul of state or city laws surrounding sleeping in public if caught. This is also a legal liability for the library.

If the building is locked, you can’t escape if there’s a fire or medical emergency.

Depending on the institution’s policies and staffing levels, you may be left alone if you fall asleep in a public library while reading or studying.

If the library employs security guards, you’re likelier to be caught and woken.

Library staff will likely wake you if you disturb others by snoring or blocking access to books. You may be asked to leave the building if they suspect you’re exclusively using the library to sleep.

Avoid falling asleep in a public library during opening hours by taking regular breaks from reading or studying, keeping your mind engaged in your tasks, and avoiding excessive darkness.

Ensure you know when the library closes so you can leave in time.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in a Library?

Public libraries pride themselves on being welcoming spaces. Most libraries offer computer access, electrical charging points, comfortable seating, and a wealth of knowledge bases at your fingertips.

Unfortunately, there are limits to how much time anybody can spend in a public library.

While college and university libraries may be accessible 24 hours a day, most public libraries operate strict opening hours, and you can’t remain in the building after closing.

This means that it’s illegal to use a public library as a location to spend the night.

Also, you may be asked to leave if staff feel you spend too much time in the library, especially if you’re prone to napping in the building.

Hiding in a library after closing hours is trespassing and may result in legal action. The severity of any penalties will depend on whether the library presses charges against you and local laws.

is it illegal to sleep in a library?

Why Can’t You Sleep in A Library?

In theory, allowing people to sleep in a library could be considered a positive and progressive policy.

Libraries can provide a safe space for people without homes to spend the night in a warm, sheltered environment and prevent overtired readers from driving home.

Alas, there are reasons why libraries need to protect themselves and operate a “no sleeping” policy. Outside of state and city laws that place a curfew on sleeping in public spaces, these include:

Disturbance to Other Patrons

Libraries are often used as an example of a silent location.

Speaking in a library, even in a whisper, is often frowned upon – or outright verboten – to avoid disturbing others. With this in mind, consider how distracting loud snoring could be.

Snoring and gasping for breath in your sleep is considered an issue for partners sharing your bed at night, so it’s unrealistic to expect other patrons and library staff to tolerate this noise during the day.

Overcrowding

All the reasons why a library could be a welcoming spot to sleep are also why this needs to be discouraged. If a public library opened its doors to anybody at all hours, including people experiencing homelessness, it could quickly become overrun.

Libraries don’t avoid this outcome because they are heartless and ambivalent to the plight of those less fortunate. However, like hospitals, they can’t allow themselves to become a “safe space” for just anybody to spend their days and nights.

Libraries rely on public funding to survive, and this money is supplied on the condition that libraries provide set services – most notably, a quiet place to study, read, learn, and access IT facilities.

If a library becomes overcrowded and overused by people not using it for its intended purpose, patrons will cease visiting. This makes it difficult to make a justifiable plea for grants funded by city taxpayers.

Safety of Patrons and Staff

Everybody reacts differently to being suddenly woken.

While some people may be mortified that they fell asleep in a public library and apologize profusely, others may become angry, irritable, or belligerent at having their sleep disturbed.

This could pose a safety risk to library staff or other users of the facility.

If your response to being woken is to flail your limbs, you may inadvertently strike a staff member. This will be unpleasant for everybody involved in the altercation.

Legal Liabilities

The most compelling reason you can’t sleep in a public library, especially overnight, is legal liability. If something were to occur when the library was unstaffed, nobody would be available to assist.

The most prominent example of this risk is fire. By their very nature, libraries are filled with paper. This means that should a fire start anywhere in the building, it’ll spread rapidly.

If the library staff have left for the day and locked all doors, unaware that somebody was sleeping within the building, no exit points will be available to you. As a public building, libraries can’t take this risk.

Equally, if you were to experience a medical emergency, a locked library with no staff means you could not seek help. Even if you had access to a telephone to call 911, emergency services may be unable to access a public library in time to assist.

What Happens if You Fall Asleep at the Library?

Anybody can fall asleep in a library. These locations are quiet, and you may accidentally doze off if you spend several hours studying or researching.

If this is an occasional or one-off event, and you don’t disturb other patrons by snoring, staff may look the other way. However, security staff may still elect to wake you up and ask you to leave the building.

You may get away with dozing in a public library for a short time if you’re respectful.

Prepare An Explanation

Library staff are human beings and will likely show compassion wherever possible.

If you apologize upon waking up and can reasonably explain why you fell asleep, you’ll probably be permitted to return to your work or leisure activities.

Naturally, the mood of the staff member at hand will play a role in whether this explanation is satisfactory and your apology is accepted. If you catch a security guard or librarian on a bad day, you may still be ejected despite protestations of innocence.

Pleading that you’ve been studying hard or spending several hours reading and researching is likelier to see your napping granted clemency.

Staff will notice you spent a long time in the library before you dozed off. If you arrive, sit on a sofa, and start snoring, you’ll have difficulty explaining yourself.

If you admit you were looking for a quiet place to sleep as you were up all night partying or playing video games, you’re likelier to be asked to leave.

Choose An Appropriate Location

If you’re tired upon entering a library but need to use the facility for some time and are thus worried that you may doze off, consider where you’ll position yourself.

Whether you fall asleep deliberately or accidentally, you’re likelier to get into trouble if you’re making a nuisance of yourself. Places to avoid include:

  • Open, public spaces that numerous other patrons are using.
  • Anywhere that blocks access to bookshelves, IT equipment, staffed stations, or entry and exit points.
  • Any areas designated for children.

If you’re concerned about your ability to remain awake, position yourself as far away from others as possible. Find a table on a less busy floor where possible, but don’t make it look like you are hiding.

If you nap under a table or behind an obstacle, library staff will be suspicious and assume you’re deliberately avoiding detection as you plan to spend the night.

Dozing off may be accepted, but willful deception will produce a harsher response. 

what happens if you fall asleep at the library?

Do Not Abuse Library Property

A surefire way to lose any napping privileges in a library is by taking advantage of the hospitality and services provided by the facility.

If library staff feel you risk damaging their property, you’ll likely be woken, ejected, and possibly even banned from re-entering.

Don’t take a stack of books from the library’s shelves and use them as a pillow.

You’ll risk damaging the books, and even if this is not the case, you risk denying access to knowledge that another patron may be looking for.

Don’t place your feet on the desk, pull multiple chairs together to create a makeshift bed, or give the library staff any reason to doubt your sincerity when you claim to have accidentally dozed off.

How to Avoid Sleep in a Library

You should prevent yourself from falling asleep for your safety and to avoid an awkward encounter with library staff. The ways to achieve this include the following.

  • Take regular breaks from reading or studying. Stand up and stretch your limbs no less than once an hour, and consider stepping outside to get some fresh air.
  • Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable. Avoid sofas or soft furnishings – position yourself on a high-backed chair and sit up straight.
  • Bring a small reading lamp. Nothing so bright that it will disturb other patrons, but sufficient illumination to avoid your brain releasing melatonin if you plan to study when it’s dark.
  • Periodically change the books or resources you’re reading, ideally switching to a different subject occasionally, to ensure your brain remains engaged.
  • Listen to upbeat music through headphones. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences confirm that music enhances elasticity in the brain, improving cognitive function.

While taking a thermos of coffee is also a preferred approach for many, this will only get you so far – and you risk spillages that will almost certainly see you removed from the premises.

Public libraries are places of learning that open their doors to anybody willing to respect the formal and unwritten rules of such an institution, but they’re not safe sleeping locations.

If you’re looking for a place to nap, the library should not feature in your list of options.