The staff at public libraries often have to do much more than "shush" a noisy patron.
A review of hundreds of incident reports at the Champaign, Urbana and Danville public libraries reveals that, like many public places, libraries aren't sanctuaries from theft, rowdy behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, even sexual misconduct.
The Champaign Public Library, for example, had 782 "incident reports" last year that included 133 cases of suspected or proven theft of library property, 80 cases of rowdy juvenile behavior, 55 incidents of verbal abuse, 12 cases of panhandling on library grounds and a host of other problems. (Of 170 items stolen in 2014, the library said, 81 were recovered or charged to the offender's library account).
That's down from 1, 092 such cases in 2009, library director Marsha Grove said.
"You serve a very diverse population. It's a public building with people from all walks of life in a library. But one of the things I emphasize with the staff is that 99 percent of the people who come in here are good people who just use the library and are doing things right. It's that 1 percent that gets your attention and takes your time, " Grove said.
The smaller public libraries in Urbana and Danville have their problems, too, although not at the same magnitude.
"Our public library is a safe place but what people need to remember is that it is a public place, " said Celeste Choate, Urbana Free Library Executive Director. "So for example we encourage people to keep their possessions with them. You don't want to leave your phone on the table and walk away because it's a public place. You wouldn't do that at Target. That's the kind of thing I think some patrons forget. They feel so comfortable at the public library. They feel it's homey and they forget that it's not their home and that it's a public place."
Barbara Nolan has been at the Danville Public Library since 1972, and its director since 1978. Society has changed, she said, and so has library conduct.
"I think we've seen more people, adults and kids, who come in not knowing how to behave in public. I think they've not been taught, " she said. "That was getting pretty discouraging for me after a while, that you had to teach kids that you don't shout, you don't run in the library. I know some kids do that anyway because they're new to the library. As far as behavior I think that's the biggest thing here."
Neither Choate nor Nolan say they see the level of serious issues, such as substance abuse, that goes on at the Champaign library.
A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others...
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