As somebody compelled to spend hours doing research in that semi-dangerous, Brechtian world that has become the public library, I applaud the officials of Montgomery County for trying to make the world safer for librarians and library-users.
The Montgomery Council will consider later this month a proposal that would allow librarians (along with bus drivers) to ban disorderly people from using a facility for up to 90 days.
According to the WaPo, ‘the measure, conceived largely in response to incidents at public libraries, would offer employees a new tool for maintaining order and protecting themselves, county officials say.’
A spokesman for County Executive Douglas Duncan is quoted saying, ‘We have to ensure the safety of our workers. No employees should be subject to verbal or physical abuse.’ Duncan’s staff has been mulling over such a measure for more than two years.
Veterans of the District of Columbia’s library system might hope that something similar might be considered here. But not so fast.
The ACLU is against the quiet-libraries measure.
‘ACLU Decries Plan to Quell Public Disorder,’ the WaPo headlined a story in the Saturday paper. (Apt headline, I thought.)
Explained Stephen M. Block, staff attorney in the National Capital Area office of the ACLU: “The main problem is that the bill allows the manager of a facility not only to tell someone to leave, but also allows the facility manager at that point to say, ‘Leave and don’t come back for 90 days.”
No, that is what’s good about the bill. It would give librarians an on-the-spot tool to improve the atmosphere for people who are actually there to read books.
Admittedly, such people are few and far between at the Martin Luther King Library, where I have spent many troubling hours.
The Martin Luther King Library is a veritable annex for a nearby shelter for homeless people. The atmosphere, alas, is more shelter than library.
I have nothing against people, literate or not, seeking warmth in a library in the cold months’as long as they behave in a fashion that doesn’t make it difficult for readers. The King Library is rowdy on good days, sinister on bad ones.
Those who leer menacingly at me are most likely not there to drink of the fountain of knowledge. I witnessed loud altercations, and it is not at all unusual for the more disorderly library patrons to reek of liquor. (The bathrooms reek, too.)
With the King experience before me, I expected worse from the Mount Pleasant Library, where I went, with trepidation, because it was the only library in town that had a book I needed. It is in a worse neighborhood than the King Library, and the sign proclaiming it a ‘Drug-Free Zone’ was not promising.
What a lovely surprise awaited me. Not only was the Mount Pleasant Library apparently really a drug-free zone, it was quiet as a mouse–even the elderly gent napping had taken the trouble to put an open book in his lap. The librarians were helpful and well-informed.
Reading in the quiet of the Mount Pleasant branch’an old Carnegie library with dark wood and pleasant displays of books’I was carried back to the many, many happy hours I spent in the William Alexander Percy Library of my childhood.
Why, I asked a librarian, was Mount Pleasant Library, located on Lamont and Sixteenth Street, near the spot of a fatal gang-related killing a few weeks before my first visit there, so different from the King Library?
She thought I was being critical and muttered something apologetic about the King Library being more concerned (I think that was the word) about the ‘rights’ of the homeless.
The rights of the homeless today apparenty encompass the right to destroy our libraries.
The ACLU is defending that right, along with the right of genuinely criminal types, to disrupt libraries. I rather think that, deep down, the ACLU believes that society has failed ‘the homeless’ and that they should have the right to shout down society.
In the library. While I am trying to read.
By the way, Mr. Block of the ACLU objects to the quiet libraries proposal partly because the decision should be made by somebody of more authority than the librarian.
Like the Supreme Court?
Please, Mr. Block, hush up and let me read in peace.