A fine line between library rules, rights

A challenge for library staff is how to handle bothersome patrons without impinging on their right to use the facility. More disciplinary power could be on the way.

December 24, 2010|By Mike Reicher,

NEWPORT BEACH — That annoying person talking loudly on a cell phone may one day be barred from using the Newport Beach Public Library.

Librarians want new regulations that allow them to discipline unruly patrons, and the Board of Library Trustees gave them the go-ahead Tuesday to draft penalties.

A truly public space, libraries have to balance the needs of orderly patrons with the reality that some people smell, make too much noise or stay on the computers for too long. How to reprimand adults without impinging on their public benefits is now the challenge for city staffers.


"We want to maintain the environment so people can enjoy the library," said Tim Hetherton, library services manager. "At the same time, we want to make sure we're not abusing anyone's rights."

As the current code of conduct stands, librarians can ask someone to leave the building if he or she violates the rules, but that's their only remedy. A violator could drive to the other side of town and roll into a branch on roller skates, or even barefoot — both of which are prohibited.

Other U.S. libraries sometimes define escalating penalties for breaking their rules. Pomona has a strict policy outlining which violations would allow for permanent exclusion or even criminal prosecution.

Hetherton would like to add something similar.

It might start with banning a patron for the remainder of the day, then repeat offenders could be kept out for a week, a month or even for the most serious violators — like those who commit crimes — could be shunned for life.

That brings up legal questions Hetherton said he's planning to ask the city attorney. Because the library receives state and local funds, he's not sure if it can prohibit people from using services.

And not everyone believes librarians should have so much power.

"I think that's kind of invading someone's freedoms," said Hunter Rosner, 29, who was at the Central Library Thursday. "The library's like a refuge."

Some of the rules on the code of conduct, both in Newport and at other libraries, are designed to control the effect homeless people have on others. No shopping carts are allowed into the buildings, for instance, or sleeping bags, bed-rolls or blankets.

One cause for ejection is "The lack of personal hygiene or use of perfume or fragrance which produces odors that interfere with other customers' use of library facilities."

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