Drug Contamination and Prison. These Aren't Easy Times to Be a Librarian

- by Michael Stillman

The Boulder, Colorado, Library (Boulder Library photo).

Library worker has not ordinarily been thought of as a dangerous occupation, but these aren't ordinary times. The days when libraries were quiet places for readers are long gone. Library workers now deal with all sorts of people who come for reasons other than reading books. A couple of recent stories expose the reality of how things have changed.


Libraries have often become shelters for homeless people or those experiencing various personal issues. That was evidently a case in Colorado recently when two libraries were forced to temporarily close down due to methamphetamine contamination. The first was the Boulder Main Library. It closed on December 20, 2022, when tests of air ducts in six restrooms revealed unacceptable levels of meth. This came about after a few weeks of noting smoking in the restrooms and two employees experiencing symptoms consistent with meth exposure. Fortunately, the ducts blow air outside of the building, but they needed to test surfaces in the bathrooms and around the library to see if they were contaminated. They were.


The library hired certified remediation contractors to clean contaminated areas. Furniture, desks, walls and rugs were cleaned. Porous furniture was thrown away. Finally, the library reopened on January 9, 2023. However, computers were still not available, and the bathrooms were sealed off. Those required a few more weeks of cleaning. Once retested and found safe, the library intends to have staff and contract security monitor the restrooms more closely.


Speaking of the situation, Library Director David Farnan said, “This is truly a sad situation and represents the impact of a widespread epidemic in our country.” The library explained that low levels of meth contamination can cause symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, but there was no indication that anyone visiting the library faced any significant health risks.


Then, two days after Boulder reopened, the Englewood Public Library had to close its doors for the same reason. It began testing after learning of the problems in Boulder. They tested the exhaust vents and found meth levels above the allowable state threshold. The same was true of surfaces in the restrooms, while traces of a lower level were found in other areas of the library. City Manager Shawn Lewis announced, “The test results we received today are troubling, and we immediately began working to remediate affected spaces with the goal of reopening the library as soon as possible.” After remediation is completed, they plan to add to library staff and contracted with an outside security firm to conduct additional surveillance inside and outside of the library.


Meanwhile, a third Colorado library recently has closed temporarily due to Meth contamination, the Bemis Public Library in Littleton.


Having to deal with people using drugs may soon be the least of some librarians' worries. In North Dakota, legislation has been introduced to ban books containing “explicit sexual material,” including “sexual preference,” “sex-based classifications,” and “gender identity.” Does this mean books depicting a married couple of clearly different genders is banned? Presumably, human depictions can only be of those of an unidentifiable gender. The legislators provide a whole list of activities banned from being in books, such as “deviant sexual intercourse,” “sexual intercourse “ (presumably non-deviant varieties in the legislators' eyes), “sadomasochistic abuse,” etc. Banned are covers displayed in places frequented by minors which show “nude or partially denuded human figures,” defined as “less than completely and opaquely covered human genitals, pubic regions, female breasts or a female breast, if the breast or breasts are exposed below a point immediately above the top of the areola, or human buttocks; and includes human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state even if completely and opaquely covered.”


Wow. I guess we know what sort of things are on these legislators' minds. Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor claimed what he described as disgusting content is associated with addiction, poor self-esteem, devalued intimacy, increasing divorce rates, unprotected sex among young people and poor well-being, though he provided no evidence to back up the claim. Is he implying that twice-divorced fellow Republican, former President Donald Trump, viewed too many pornographic books when he was a child? If not, but he still got divorced, does that mean his marriages broke down because he didn't view enough pornography as a child?


Censorship has been sweeping across American libraries like a plague over the last year – Covid22. However, this one is different from most in that it applies to tax-supported public libraries, not just ones in schools. Local librarians would no longer have the authority to choose the books for their own libraries. And then, there is one more thing unusual and even more disturbing about this proposed legislation. The punishment for having these banned books in their library is imprisonment for up to 30 days. Imprisonment. For librarians. Lock them up. There is a reason why people view politicians as the lowest of low, those most deserving of imprisonment, while librarians are a respected group. Thank you, Mr. Lefor and your like-minded colleagues, for once again reminding us why we feel this way.