Considerations on library security


Last week the newspaper reported the following: “Baatz said the city and school district agreed that there was a need for security upgrades to the main library entrance that would require people to be buzzed in as is required at all other entrances into the school.”

This raises a series of questions: namely, who determines who is safe enough to get buzzed into the public library and how do they make that call?

This is not something to be figured out after a new agreement is in place. This is something that must be addressed during the negotiation process, so that the impact of this seemingly simple decision can be fully assessed and incorporated into a new agreement.

Let’s break those questions down. Who will determine who gets access to a publicly funded, free and equitable, community service? The answer so far has been: Jody will.

•Jody doesn’t work every moment the library is open.

•Jody isn’t always at her desk. Library work requires a lot of time in the stacks, in meetings, or in the workroom.

•Jody, as the director, has many other duties besides watching the door to assess whether an individual is safe enough to enter.

•On average, 100+ individuals enter through the public entrance into the library every day.

That averages someone entering the library every five minutes. These numbers do not include patrons who enter from the school side—but who are still served by public library staff. I imagine it would be nearly impossible to get anything done with these kinds of constant interruptions.

•The solution then becomes any public library staff should have the responsibility of deciding who is deemed safe enough to enter the public library, which raises a whole new question on liability.

Liability-wise, what happens when public library staff let in the wrong person? Or, conversely, what happens when public library staff refuse access to the right person? I imagine that once someone makes a professional judgment call on an individual’s character and acts on that in a way that either injures or discriminates, they become personally and professionally liable. This feels like a heavy burden on staff that are already underpaid compared to colleagues and have few benefits.

The only answer to that conundrum actually asks one of the first questions posed in this letter: how do public library staff determine who is safe enough to enter the public library? This must be definitively laid out so the judgment call is made by the parties entering the agreement, not the staff who will have to make these determinations day in and day out, week after week with every patron who shows up at the door.

In their new agreement, what guidelines will the city and school draw up for public library staff to follow in the course of their daily job? To ensure no weapons are brought in, nobody with a bag, purse, backpack or package can enter the library. That is nearly every person who walks into the library, as they are carrying books or homework or computers or diaper bags. Also, puffy jackets will be excluded, as they can also hide weapons. Not wholly comfortable during Minnesota winters. How will the city and school define dangerous: unshaven, bushy beards, unkempt hair, dirty clothes, color of your skin or hair, wearing a hat, proficiency with the English language, tattoos, pulled up on a motorcycle or a junker?

This is dangerous water to tread, not to mention unwelcoming for an entity that was designed to provide free and equitable services to all individuals regardless of who they are or what they look like. The library is a place where individuals use the computers to fill out employment applications or print documents for new business endeavors they are trying. It is a space for people to get the help and services they need in a way that connects them to their community, not isolates them. Public libraries were founded on the principle of free access.

Free access does not discriminate. Unfortunately, having individuals get buzzed in based on someone’s assessment of whether or not they look “safe” is the very definition of discrimination. I value community and connection. Both of those are at risk of being lost if negotiations create an agreement that is counterintuitive to what a community library really is.

I ask that the city take a look at the impact of the decisions they are making in negotiations and act in the best interest of their public—all of their public—not just the ones with the same life experiences as themselves.

Deb Brockberg

Meinders Community
Librarian 2002-2007