Librarians in California’s San Luis Obispo County have long had a policy of politely talking to guests with offensive body odour.

But now a new ordinance gives them the legal power to shut their books and show them the door.

“The point is to make [the library] a comfortable, safe place for everyone to use,” Moe McGee, assistant director of the San Luis Obispo City-County Library, told the Associated Press.

Her librarians can now remove reeking readers whose smells infringe upon the rights of others.

But the question of just what is an offensive body odour raises tough questions.

“What is bad odour?” asked Irene Macias, Santa Barbara’s library services manager.

“A woman who wears a strong perfume? A person who had a garlicky meal?”

But authorities insist smelly library users in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo aren’t simply excluded.

Instead, they’re provided with a means of correcting the error of their way.

“We seldom have to ask someone to leave,” Ms McGee said.

“It rarely happens. If it does we’re very careful to give coupons about where they can wash their clothes or take a shower. We do it in as humane a way as possible.”

Unsurprisingly, lawyers over the years have been active in this field.

In a 1989 a homeless man was asked to leave New Jersey library because he often exhibited offensive and disruptive behavior, including staring at patrons, and because of his body odour.

He successfully sued the town for harassment and won, with the court ruling his conviction was unconstitutional.

But in 1992, a higher court overturned the decision, ruling a library may enforce such rules if they are reasonable, fairly applied and impinge as little as possible on the right of access to information.

Over the years there have been no lawsuits filed because of San Luis Obispo’s prohibition, Ms McGee said.

“People have always taken the first suggestion to clean up and we’ve never had anyone object to that,” she told AP.

Besides body odour, other excludable offences under the new code of conduct include fighting, eating, drinking, sleeping, playing games, printing or viewing illegal materials on library computers, or for not wearing a shirt or shoes.

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