Library Bans Eating and Drinking to Limit COVID-19 Spread

Ex Libris Café and the Law School Green Lounge will continue to permit food and drink. Harper Café is unaffected by the policy change.


By Erin Choi

Drinking and eating are now prohibited in University Library spaces except when drinking from water fountains. The new policy will not apply to “designated dining areas,” which are currently Ex Libris Café and the Law School Green Lounge. Crerar Lounge was also originally listed as an exception, but has since been removed. 

The policy, which went into effect on January 6, will remain so indefinitely. According to Interim Library Director and University Librarian Elisabeth Long, the Library will “continue to evaluate the need for it as conditions and regulations evolve.”

Long said the Library implemented the restriction due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19: “[W]e are taking measures to help reduce transmission among students and staff.” 

Library patrons are prohibited from drinking from water bottles under the new policy. “It is too easy for a water bottle to become an excuse to have one’s mask down,” Long said. “Students can certainly bring a water bottle, but they will need to take a break and go to Ex Libris to consume it.” Water fountains will continue to be in use, and drinking from them is still permitted.

Harper Café, which operates in Harper Memorial Library but outside of the reading room itself, is unaffected by the policy change. 

In the designated dining areas, users must continue to follow the University’s masking requirements by wearing a mask when not eating or drinking. Long also noted that the recent City of Chicago vaccination mandate for dining establishments applies to Ex Libris, and that therefore, since December 31, campus dine-in services have been limited to UChicago students and employees, who are already in compliance with the University vaccination requirement. Take-away food service at locations that offer it will remain available to non-University affiliates.

In the past, there have been “serious issues” with library patrons skirting COVID-19 protocols, according to John Kaderbek, a Regenstein employee and Teamster 743 union steward. He said he has seen library patrons using food and drink as an excuse to avoid wearing a mask. 

Kaderbek said that workers like him were not directly consulted in the policy change, but that they had previously brought this issue to management. 

Those violating the policy will first be asked by staff to refrain from eating or drinking outside of designated areas. If they continue to violate the policy or do so repeatedly, the Library will respond by “escalating the issue, first internally and then to the Dean of Students,” Long said.

According to Kaderbek, employees who tried to ask students to wear their masks when not eating or drinking were often dismissed or ignored. “The burden of enforcement mostly falls to hourly staff, student workers, and low-level supervisors,” he said. 

“I have spoken to employees who say they eventually just stop trying because if they tried to enforce these policies, it would literally be the only thing they spend their day doing, endlessly reminding people to wear their mask.”

Another Library employee, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation by their employer, raised questions as to whether current COVID-19 levels may warrant other preventative measures. They noted that in summer 2020, when campus COVID-19 cases were significantly lower than recent levels, the Regenstein was only open for book pick-up. “Library staff have shown they can support research while limiting patron access to library spaces,“ they said. 

Student coffee shop hours from now through Friday, January 21: 

Ex Libris Café: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Harper Café: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

Hallowed Grounds: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.


MLK Day (Monday, January 17) Hours: 

Ex Libris Café: Closed

Harper Café: 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. (regular hours)

Hallowed Grounds: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.