Bangor Library seeks safety for all

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Ben Treat is the director of the Bangor Public Library.

You may have heard of recent behavioral issues at the Bangor Public Library. This problem does not exist in a vacuum. A complex web of social conditions has resulted in a housing crisis and an opioid epidemic – long-term, statewide problems, intertwined with no simple solutions. The library‘s response must be to keep the library facilities and grounds safe for people who come here.

There is so much to protect. We have fabulous places for literacy tutoring, reading a newspaper, meeting a friend for a game of cards and much more. The library is a great place to browse long aisles in search of the right book. The library is a special place that offers programs such as the recent Americans and the Holocaust exhibit, as well as an array of children’s literacy programs, art exhibits, and more.

Yes, there is a lot to protect; let me explain a bit how we do it. The library is full of semi-private nooks and crannies as well as areas away from our service desks. We are removing personnel from other duties to patrol these spaces. We need to have a strong presence that corrects and prevents misbehavior, and so far we’ve been trying to do that without additional staff. But what does this patrol look like?

An example: If someone falls asleep in the library, we wake them up. It starts with a wellness checkup; Is this person tired, sick? If the person cannot be awakened, we immediately take emergency measures. If the person can be awake, but continues to fall asleep again, we call for a checkup. Eventually, the person must leave if they cannot stay awake. All of this takes a lot of time, but if my loved one is feeling unwell and falls asleep, I want the people around them to treat him with care.

Consider falling asleep in the library a violation of the “yellow light” of our rules of conduct: no direct or serious harm, perhaps, but also not using the space for what it was intended for. serves. Violators of the “yellow light” rules must leave for the day if the behavior persists.

However, we also had to respond to “red light” violations: threats, drug use, theft, property damage, etc. None of this is safe behavior and completely unacceptable. For these types of ‘red light’ offences, the police are called upon to issue a criminal trespassing warning, valid for one year. We had five such criminal trespassing warnings in 2017. In February and March of this year alone, we had 27. Our measures are tough where they need to be tough and tough where they need to be tough.

The library problem is a microcosm of a statewide and national problem. You might want to know what you can do. The answer is to turn to organizations looking for solutions. The library has received support from many partner organizations and agencies, such as Bangor Public Health, Bangor Police, Community Health and Counseling, and Health Equity Alliance. The city is working to implement the recommendations of the 2019 Affordable Housing Task Force and is seeking partnerships with nationally recognized organizations like Built for Zero. The real solutions reside outside our walls.

But within our walls, we will continue to welcome all users who use the library for its many intended purposes and obey the rules. To do this, we will keep our rules prominently displayed, review our rules of conduct for potential innovations, and continue to explore additional security personnel. Your safety is the first task.

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