Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Making libraries safe for taxpayers

The AP offers this story about an odor ban for libraries in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.:

A new county law aims to keep readers from reeking. Libraries in San Luis Obispo County have had their own rules banning offensive body odor since 1994, but the policy became law after the Board of Supervisors last month adopted an ordinance that lets authorities kick out malodorous guests. Visitors to 14 libraries and a bookmobile also could be asked to leave for fighting, eating, drinking, sleeping, playing games, and printing or viewing illegal materials on library computers. 'The point is to make the library a comfortable, safe place for everyone to use,' said Moe McGee, assistant director of the San Luis Obispo City-County Library. A strict code of conduct, officials argue, is needed to ensure one patron's right to use a public library doesn't infringe on the rights of another. Yet the law can raise tough questions for librarians, said Irene Macias, Santa Barbara's library services manager. 'What is bad odor?' Macias asked. 'A woman who wears a strong perfume? A person who had a garlicky meal?'
What the article does not say, and what the questions Irene Macias asks at the articles' end are intended to hide, is that this ban has nothing to do with a patron's garlic dinner, and everything to do with the fact that homeless people have, for decades, been using libraries as their hangouts. In major cities (and I speak with personal knowledge here), a trip to the library means, among other things, (1) checking all cloth chair cushions for lice; (2) finding that most quiet nooks are already occupied by people who have not bathed in weeks or years (and who are often pickled in alcohol); (3) discovering that bathrooms are being used as residential areas or shooting galleries (and I'm not talking video games); and (4) generally putting up with people who view the library as an extension of their generally chaotic, unhygenic, drug- and alcohol-ridden lives. The end result of these previously immovable library "patrons" was that taxpayers -- and their children -- were driven out of the libraries. Also, because homeless behavior is hard on the fabric of a library (usually in the form of extra cleaning and extermination expenses), the taxpayers were paying more for the libraries' maintenance and less for the books that are at the heart (or are supposed to be at the heart) of a library's existence. Bravo to San Luis Obispo. Let's see if this ban survives the inevitable ACLU lawsuit. (Or, as the ACLU's unofficial motto clearly goes, "To heck with the taxpayers who actually fund all the institutions.")