More people sleeping amid public library shelves; other issues quieting down

Maybe it’s just the reading material, but the number of people observed sleeping in San Francisco’s Main Library increased by more than 
80 percent in the past year.

The library’s main branch attracts not only bibliophiles, but famously also draws thieves, drug abusers and homeless people, all of whom are there for more than just a love of books.

According to new data, a total of 4,412 security incidents were reported last fiscal year — ranging from theft to patron suspensions. That was down from 4,798 in fiscal 2010-11. But sleeping incidents increased from 588 to 1,065, disturbances jumped by 214 incidents for a total of 776, and drug use more than doubled on the lower level but declined on the first 

Library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers said some of the increases were from increased enforcement, like the 81 percent jump in reports of sleeping.

“The percentage increase here is more the result of stepped-up enforcement of our policy prohibiting sleeping in the library,” Jeffers said.

In recent years, officials have tried to reduce nonbookish behavior. In 2007, user guidelines were specifically amended to prohibit nudity and drug use. Officials also crafted a stronger partnership with the Police Department and with the Public Health Department to bring in a caseworker to help people with mental health or housing issues. The library spends $1.6 million annually on security and homeless outreach.

Some areas of enforcement have been successful. Thefts were down from 98 to 65, verbal incidents down from 170 to 94, and suspensions, which can range from a day to a year, decreased from 304 to 284.

Meanwhile, the caseworker helped 226 people, securing temporary housing for 25 and permanent housing for 18, and hiring six to act as library “health and safety

Library officials say the efforts are helping to improve the experience for the facility’s 2.3 million annual visitors.

“The numbers show some very positive trends such as the fact that assaults and thefts have both dropped significantly and that our incident totals are down by almost 400 incidents,” Jeffers said. “We have enhanced our security presence this year, strengthening our partnership with the Police Department. We now have an SFPD officer stationed outside the Main Library full time, which serves as a strong deterrent to criminals.”

Jeffers said these challenges are not unique to San Francisco. “Many urban libraries face similar issues in their environment that are often beyond their control.”

She said library officials “work diligently and proactively to ensure the Library offers a safe and welcoming environment for this community.”

City Librarian Luis Herrera will present the new security statistics on Thursday to the San Francisco Library Commission, which oversees operations.

Library Incidents

2010-11 2011-12
Total Security Incidents 4,798 4,412
Drug Use Lower Level 15 31
Sleeping Incidents 588 1,065
Theft 98 65
Verbal Incidents 170 94

Source: San Francisco Public Library

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