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St. Helens Public Library looks to tighten guidelines

Library staffers hope to update behavior rules for a new era after ongoing issues with problem patrons
by: Tyler Graf CHECK OUT — St. Helens Public library assistant Nicole Woodruff helps a mother and daughter check out books Friday, Sept. 9.

The St. Helens Public Library is in the process of updating how it deals with problem patrons, who have been an ongoing concern for years.

Library staffers say some visitors will wash up in the bathroom, leave their children unattended while on the computers and, in a few instances, vandalize the bathrooms. Because of the continuing problems, the public library will tighten its rules for using the services and protocol for how staff members handle trouble.

Mary Woiccak, a regular library user and co-vice chair of the library board, said the proposed changes to the library's guidelines are a result of a growing customer base that comes to use the library's various electronic resources.

Since she moved to St. Helens in 2006 and began going to the library, she's seen changes in how the library is used. It's gotten busier in recent years, she said.

'There are a lot more people coming into the library to use the computers who are not necessarily library cardholders,' she said.

Though the library has typically had broad discretion concerning conduct on its property, clear-cut policies on what's disallowed within the library haven't changed since 1987.

The library's director has drafted newer, more stringent and more era-appropriate guidelines for the library, which will soon go before City Council for approval.

The library's 1987 guidelines set in place such rules as no smoking, no drunkenness and no playing of audio devices disruptive to others, but the guidelines give no clear policy on dealing with disruptive patrons, said Library Director Margaret Jefferies.

The new guidelines would likely be passed as an administrative rule, giving Jefferies and library staffers the final say over how they'd be implemented. The rules would also be more specific, calling for three levels of offenses, Jefferies said. She added that while there would be tougher rules for dealing with nuisances, the library would remain a welcoming place, open to everyone.

The new guidelines, drafted with the help of the city's legal counsel, call for no sexual conduct, no controlled substances, no threats or hostile language, no unattended children under 5 years old, and no altering the computer system, among other behavior.

The guidelines do not come as a response to an increase in bad behavior, Jefferies said, adding that the library is trying to put in place a 'proactive' approach to dealing with nuisances.

Jefferies said the size of the library will help staffers stay consistent with problem patrons who have been banned from the premises.

'Because we are small, we come to know regular patrons who are not cardholders,' Jefferies said. 'We'll have to keep a file.'

City Council is expected to implement a private appeals process for individuals banned from the library, a policy Jefferies would support as a way to protect patrons' privacy.