San Francisco Main Library trying to address bathroom cleanliness issues

San Francisco Public Library officials are cracking down on bathroom conditions in the main branch in response to complaints amid an environment that over the years has led to partnering with police and employing an on-site social worker to handle troubled patrons.

There won't be full-time bathroom attendants or user fees at the Civic Center location, but there will be routine monitoring and overnight cleaning.

“We are doubling down on making sure that we get hourly monitoring of the restrooms,” said Roberto Lombardi, director of facilities, adding that there also will be improved record-keeping of cleanup requests and cleanings.

Even library chief Luis Herrera began monitoring the facility's public bathrooms himself.

“You can be there on a given hour and they look perfectly fine,” Herrera said. “Within 20 minutes, you go back and it needs maintenance.”

Herrera said bathroom conditions will remain a focus, and the library might hire more custodians to address issues. He said libraries in other cities have resorted to shuttering their public toilets.

“We are nowhere near that,” he said.

Previous crackdown efforts have helped curb certain bad behavior, Herrera said, noting that drug use at the library is down. There hasn't been a fatal overdose in the bathrooms since 2006, Herrera added.

The bathroom issues mark the latest development in the ongoing challenge of improving the library experience.

In 2007, for example, the library banned sex, indecent exposure and drug use in its user guidelines to be able to suspend library privileges for such behavior. Officials also began issuing crime reports several years ago. In fiscal year 2010-11, there were 4,798 security incidents reported — such as theft, drug use, sleeping and verbal altercations — but that dropped to 4,412 the next fiscal year.

Longtime library user and outspoken critic Peter Warfield said library cleanliness overall is acceptable, but not the bathrooms.

“The whole impression is of slum and of neglect,” Warfield said.

Amid complaints about broken urinals and toilets, Lombardi said fixing those can take time.

“We do not have plumbers on staff,” he said.

About five years ago, the library installed sewage grinders.

“We were having so many problems with people putting objects in the toilets, clogging lines,” Lombardi said. “We had a flood in the lower level once and resorted to putting in these massive grinders, which my engineers tell me will make handiwork out of cans, books, clothes, you name it.”

Lombardi said the recently instituted night cleaning, which includes the whole library, is helping to address bathroom cleanliness.

“The bathroom at least starts fresh,” he said.

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