Librarians struggling to cope with patrons’ rampant drug use, violence and public sex acts

Librarians are struggling to navigate a series of dangerous situations, including rampant drug abuse and sexually inappropriate or violent behavior from patrons at multiple libraries throughout the country.

As the New York Post reported Monday, the issue has only worsened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several librarians bemoan that these problems are occurring in close proximity to children. 

“We want to do our jobs,” one librarian told The New York Post. “In a lot of communities, people have nowhere else to go. Most of the people who come here don’t cause any problem at all. But there has to be more support, more of a plan to deal with what’s happening.”

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As KTVU reported in February, a branch of the Contra Costa County Library in Antioch, California, was forced to shut down in February after multiple robberies and public sexual intercourse. The Antioch-based library later reopened after making plans to hire a security guard and upgrade surveillance cameras. 

“We’ve also had drug activity and drug use both inside the library and on library property,” Brooke Converse, a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Library System, said in a statement at the time. “People having sexual intercourse inside the library or on property in full view of patrons and staff. We found bullet casings on library property.” 

According to a study cited by The San Diego Union-Tribune last year, the San Diego Central Library has made 1,800 calls to the police over the last five years. The incidents that prompted the library to call the police included drug overdoses, thefts, assaults and concealed weaponry.

These types of incidents at libraries are not unique to California, however. 

As KGW reported earlier this month, police arrested almost 20 people around the Central Library in Portland, Oregon, which has seen an “influx of people” gather around the location. Many of the people gathered on the sidewalk smoke fentanyl. The library is working with the police to improve safety measures. 

Last month, Jennifer Goulden, a former librarian at the Des Moines Public Library’s North Side branch, filed a lawsuit against the city and the library system. As the Des Moines Register reported on April 3, Goulden alleged that the library leaders refused to address her concerns and retaliated against employees who spoke out. 

According to the report, one example of inappropriate behavior that Goulden witnessed took place in August 2022. The librarian saw a man masturbating while sitting a few feet away from a child at one of the computer terminals. While the man stopped after he was told the police had been called, the officers who responded said they could not do anything because they didn’t witness the man’s actions. 

The man returned the next day and began masturbating while staring at Goulden, according to the Des Moines Register. It took an hour for the police to arrive and when they did, authorities issued a trespass notice. They did not arrest the man, saying that he had not committed any crimes. 

Reports of librarians having to handle a series of tense emergencies come a year after The American Library Association released a statement condemning an increase in violence and threats targeted at libraries across the United States. The ALA called on elected officials and community leaders to protect their community libraries. 

“Libraries are meant to be a safe haven for our communities, welcoming of people everywhere who believe in the peaceful exchange of ideas. These ongoing and rising attacks on America’s libraries pose an existential threat to the cornerstone of our democracy,” the ALA said in a September 2023 statement. 

“Libraries are committed to upholding and defending the core values of inclusion and free and equal access to ideas and information, which are essential to an informed democratic society,” the ALA continued. “The freedom to read is a constitutionally protected right, and reading choices must be left to the reader, and in case of children, their parents. Threats of physical harm and harassment are not, and never have been, protected speech.”

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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