Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2023 Issue

Fighting, Another New Use for Libraries

Buffalo Central Library (Buffalo & Erie County Public Library website photo).

“The Downtown Central Library will be closing temporarily at 3 p.m. weekdays until further notice.” That was the brief message on the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library website. Their Facebook page expanded the message slightly, “Reduced weekday hours are a temporary measure due to safety concerns.” Behind that message is yet another issue some libraries are facing in these troubled times. Too often, society's problems seem to be playing out on the floors of libraries, once a place to escape them, a bastion of peace and quiet.


The main branch of the Buffalo library has moved up its closing times, from 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and from 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Friday. There is a significance to these closing times, and it's not related to budget cuts, often the cause of reduced library hours. It's related to school closing times. The library is closing in time to prevent dismissed schoolchildren from entering the premises. That sounds so contrary to a library's purpose, to educate, particularly the young.


The problem is that some of the “students” have been fighting in the library. One of the girls told the Buffalo News she witnessed another girl have a seizure during a fight. The News described the situation as “a surge in high school-age violence that has made ugly encounters in the library suddenly commonplace.” Unable to control the fighting, library staff determined it was safest to simply close the library before the kids got out of school. Fights have not been limited to single confrontations but there may be 20 kids involved in a fight. Library Director John Spears was quoted by WKBW as saying, “It was everything from verbal harassment screaming yelling threats some very serious all the way up to physical altercations.” WGRZ also quoted Spears as explaining, “We want to make sure this is as safe as possible, and so we changed these hours in an attempt to keep something truly horrible from happening.”


According to WKBW, teen fighting hasn't been limited to the library. It has taken place at school, in the mall, and at the AMC movie theater in the theater district. They said officials reported there were 150 youths involved in the theater incident. But, if you think all the problems are caused by unruly kids, Buffalo is the place where an “adult” gunman walked into a supermarket and mowed down 10 shoppers.


Both Library Director Spears and Buffalo's Mayor consider the situation intolerable and are determined to reopen the library to normal hours again soon.


Libraries have been dealing with many issues in recent days that Andrew Carnegie never thought of when he was building libraries across the country a century ago. Fighting is just the latest to force a library to close its doors. Earlier this year, several Colorado libraries were forced to shut down entirely for a few weeks because of unacceptably high contamination of metamphetamines. Patrons were doing more than just reading. Others had to close off sections or bathrooms as they became shelters for homeless people, some of whom could be threatening. Library censorship has been sweeping the nation of late, some librarians being forced to remove books. Florida even passed a law that puts school librarians at risk of going to prison for displaying books of which state censors don't approve. Other libraries have been subjected to protests by those upset that some books have to be sold or even disposed of because there isn't enough space to bring in anything new. School librarians have been called pornographers and groomers by parents who never read the books that supposedly make them so angry and threatening. And, of course, there is the chronic problem of budget cuts and underfunded libraries.


So what are libraries to do? There isn't a lot they can do because this is not something they created. It is our problem, society's problem. If we are bored and unmotivated, violent, highly politicized, angry, hateful, poor and homeless, our problems will spill over into our libraries. They reflect society, and until we can fix society's problems, we can't fix the libraries' problems, other than to shut them down when the chaos becomes intolerable.

Posted On: 2023-04-02 05:03
User Name: vaccinia

"So what are libraries to do?"

Enforcing current Laws and creating new ones that result in the elimination of these problems come to mind....

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