SF needs to make the Main Library safer

The San Francisco Public Library has taken extraordinary steps in the past few years to address safety and security in the main branch, which is located in the Civic Center. The library has brought in social workers to assist homeless individuals, increased security and worked to clean up the notoriously dirty downstairs restrooms, which are used for a number of things not usually associated with lavatories.

Still, the library has its issues.

But give Mayor Ed Lee credit. He is right in making a big push to rid the Main Library of what he called, in a letter to the Library Commission, the “small number of people who create disturbances and commit crimes, tarnishing the experience for everyone else.”

Lee is not calling for any sweeping new rules or any severe crackdown on any one population. In fact, in his letter, he notes that the “list of prohibited behaviors is quite extensive.”

The mayor’s recommendation to the commission is for the oversight body to work with him to institute stronger consequences for breaking the rules, including immediate removal and possible suspension.

Overall, the mayor wants the library to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone who wants to use it for its intended purpose as a library.

In a December article in The San Francisco Examiner about the library expanding security at the facility, City Librarian Luis Herrera noted that part of the struggle is the location of the public facility, near the Civic Center and the Tenderloin. Lee seems to acknowledge outside problems gravitating toward the library and drifting in. Part of his push is to create what he calls a “family and education zone” around the facility, including enforcing it as a drug-free zone.

The mayor is calling on the commission to use its existing powers to institute new rules, such as for the immediate removal of people causing trouble. He also states in the letter that longer suspensions from the facility may help discourage future bad behavior. To enforce any new rules, the Police Department also is taking a role.

The behavior Lee is specifically looking to eliminate is not minor rule-breaking. He wants to curb indecent exposure, assault on staff and patrons, possessing weapons, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and vandalism of library property.

A crackdown on this type of unruly behavior will make the space safer for everyone, especially the kids and families in the Tenderloin and Civic Center neighborhoods who use the library as their local branch. The library should be a place that these families, families from across The City, and all San Franciscans and visitors feel safe to use.

The Library Commission should move to immediately institute new rules to make the goal of a safer library a reality.

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