Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a great life if you don't weaken

It was one of those days when very little you learned in library school provided sufficient preparation for the problems encountered. It is an especially bad sign when the project you began with great expectations at 8:30 remains undone at 4:45, and the results cannot be attributed to personal indolence, or avoidance behavior. It is times like this when my grandmother's favorite aphorism seems eminently suitable: It's a great life if you don't weaken.

Most of today's issues involved personal behavior unfitting a public space or adjacent areas. A prime example: a gent who I ejected from the library last week for unsuitable behavior now sees fit to park in the spaces clearly reserved for staff. When asked to leave, he berates the staff and is generally abusive. (I ought to note here that parking in our downtown area is at a premium. Spaces are so scarce that I truly believe some residents spend more time looking for a space than they do attending to the errand they needed the space for). Just to provide enough parking for the staff we spend over $10,000 a year on reserve spaces. So, ejecting the gent from the precious library spots involves the police, the parking commission, yours truly, and time and energy. If we let it slide and let him leave with a warning he doesn't think we are serious and is emboldened, then shows up later and plants himself in another reserve spot until he is threatened, etc. Life is too short. Today's incident was black comedy, involving the exchange of particular hand signals-yes, that hand signal-acquisition of a name, license number and numerous other details, police reports, interviews, and on and on. It set the tone for a day that involved a gent drinking in the first floor men's room, several patrons well beyond the further limts of sobriety, and similar distractions.

We always hope the library will make a favorable impression, but we also acknowledge and address the less than favorable episodes which occur. Recently we conducted our first web based user's survey, and two issues proved particularly important to the experience of our patrons.Both have the potential to cause the greatest discomfort if not acknowledged.

The first is parking. The lack of public parking is not a new issue, and it is one that continues to bedevil much of the business district. For the record, the library now spends in excess of $10,000 a year just to provide enough spaces to accommodate the library staff. However, given the volume of responses indicating that parking is a chronic problem I will address the situation with the mayor, city manager, and the city council. I kmnow they understand the problem, but given the paucity of space down town, I am not sure how the matter will be resolved. However, we need to keep it at the forefront of public discussion, and we will make every opportunity to do so count.

The other long standing and equally contentious matters are loitering and behavioral issues around the library. Again, these are tribulations of long standing, and might better be defined as business district or down town problems. Most library users, regardless of their circumstances, respect, and acknowledge the sensibilities of the patrons and staff of the library. There is however a core group of inveterately problematic individuals who choose to abuse the library and environs, or conduct themselves in such a fashion that they make themselves obnoxious. When these individuals are identified they are dealt with, and if necessary removed from the library. Some are permanently banned when their conduct is particularly egregious. There are clearly defined rules of deportment posted in the library, and proscribed behavior that will result in ejection from the premises. In the entry way a no smoking and loitering sign is posted, and when contrary behavior is observed either the police or I will intervene. These are exemplary tactical methods for dealing with immediate problems.

The reality is this: as long as there is homelessness in our city, or insufficient means for integrating or caring for individuals with mental health and addiction problems, there will be patrons at the library who view it as a safe haven or a warm/cool refuge from a frequently hostile or indifferent world. As long as an individual’s deportment meets the library standards, they are welcome. The strategic solution to many of the problems which manifest themselves at the library is supportive housing. People with domiciles are less likely to conduct their lives in doorways and on sidewalks or to appear impaired in a public place. This is an issue the city council will debate in February, and I will urge as many patrons to attend as possible. As soon as a date for this discussion is announced word will be disseminated to the public.

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