SF Main Library implementing new strategies to curb unsavory behavior

San Francisco is hoping to start a new chapter in the Main Library’s troubled story as it ramps up investment in custodian and security personnel following a string of complaints and unsavory incidents that renewed the focus on patron behavior.

The institution has been marred by violence, drug use, sleeping patrons and deplorable bathrooms. In September, a 61-year-old man suffered bloody wounds when he was struck by a chair while using a library computer. In August, complaints over bathroom conditions escalated to the point where City Librarian Luis Herrera began to monitor them himself. And the number of patrons found sleeping, which is a violation of library rules, grew by 80 percent to 1,065 incidents last year.

In response, last week library officials unveiled increases to both security and custodian staffing as an interim solution and asked the City Controller’s Office to audit both functions, which is expected to lead to more sweeping reform. The library has been operating with about 13 security officers and 33 custodians.

New software is being piloted to better analyze and report public safety incidents. Currently, security personnel simply record incidents manually. In fiscal year 2011-12, 4,412 incidents were recorded, ranging from assaults to drug use.

In a new $188,000-a-year agreement with the Police Department, the library will have Sgt. Dave Hamilton on site five days a week as head of security. On-site police presence was irregular in the past.

The library is expected to spend $1.2 million on security and $2.33 million on custodians next fiscal year out of a total budget of about $104 million.

“I think we are going to make some progress,” Herrera said Thursday evening, addressing the seven-member Library Commission. “It does remain our No. 1 priority; I just want to emphasize that publicly.”

In addition to hiring more custodians, library engineers are increasing bathroom checks.

“If there is anything out of order, if there is vandalism, etc., we want to make sure that we repair that right away to keep the environment pleasant for everyone,” said Roberto Lombardi, director of facilities.

Herrera has said the Main Library is grappling with the same issues that face other libraries in big U.S. cities.

The challenges library officials face here are seemingly a reflection of where the Main Library is located, near the Tenderloin. The neighborhood — rich with culture, diversity and a large number of children — also has drug dealers, addicts and homeless people. The City’s nonprofit services for those in need are concentrated in the area.

“It is a very challenging dynamic right now in Civic Center Plaza,” Herrera said, in reference to the public space between the library and City Hall.

Not everyone’s thrilled by the perceived crackdown. One library patron told the commission Thursday that not letting people in with large bags or ushering them out if they are found sleeping or eating lunch is plain wrong. “The library is supposed to be for accommodation,” he said. “If someone gets put out for eating or sleeping — oh, especially the bag rule — that is really abusive.”

For library officials, trying to curb unruly behavior seems like a never ending battle. 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. In working with the Public Health Department they brought in a specialized counselor and began hiring some of those that were assisted as so-called health and safety associates. Two more were hired last week for a total of four.

Responding to complaints and incidents

The San Francisco Public Library has announced new safety upgrades:

Cleaning efforts

Three temporary custodians started, four more hired

Existing part-time custodians working extra hours

Department of Real Estate custodians providing temporary assistance with Main Library restrooms

Library engineers doing daily restroom equipment checks

Law and order

New library head of security named, SFPD Sgt. Dave Hamilton

Four temporary security guards started

Two new health and safety associates hired this week, bringing total staff to four

New software to launch in January for reporting and analyzing public safety incidents

Source: Public Library

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