A library used to be a refuge of peace and quiet where patrons could study, peruse stacks of books or just sit and read a magazine. That’s not always the case anymore.
Too often, the serene environment is invaded by people shouting obscenities, pulling up pornography on computers, bothering other patrons or their children, talking loudly on cell phones or just making a nuisance of themselves. And library officials are finding it harder and harder to maintain control.
So they turned to the Legislature for help. Thanks to lobbying by library officials such as York County Library Director Colleen Kaphengst and support from lawmakers such as state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, the Legislature passed a bill that allows a misdemeanor trespassing charge against people who return to a library before their written warning to stay away expires.
Unfortunately, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed it.
The bill, which received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, gives library officials the latitude to deal with problem patrons in situations that don’t warrant a call to police. But the bill also provides patrons with reasonable recourse to challenge the disciplinary measures.
Staff can’t tell a patron to leave without consulting a library director. A written warning must specify which library policy is being violated and how long the punishment will last.
The patron could appeal to the library board for a hearing. And a jury could decide on any trespassing charge resulting from the patron returing before the warning allows.
All in all, it’s a fair and reasonable policy with ample checks and balances to prevent abuse of patrons. And it would authorize libraries throughout the state to enforce rules governing behavior.
Haley’s veto said the measure gives library staff and unelected county library boards too much authority. But, as Kaphengst notes, schools, courts and colleges all have the authority to restrict access. Why shouldn’t public libraries?
The veto undoubtedly would have been overridden, but the legislative schedule might have scuttled that possibility. The Senate voted 39-3 to override the veto, but the vote occurred on June 19, the last of the extended legislative session, after the House already had gone home.
The House, which approved the bill 89-6 on June 3, could return for a special, one-day session to take up that vote and some other unfinished businesses. But that appears unlikely.
The next best option is to revisit the proposal early next year. That would require introducing a new bill, but it should pass in short order with little or no debate.
We hope this important measure doesn’t just get lost in the shuffle. Libraries need the authority to keep order.
And when librarians tell us to shush, we need to pay attention – or get kicked out.