The Newport Beach Public Library could update its policies to specifically prohibit bathing in restrooms and leering at patrons — an action triggered by things that homeless visitors are said to do at the city’s four libraries.
Library Services Director Tim Hetherton said the city takes care to protect all patrons’ right to use the library while not infringing on free speech, and that rules are in place for all users, not just homeless people who commonly visit libraries because they see them as hospitable places out of the elements with comfortable seating, accessible bathrooms, books and computers.
Board of Library Trustees Chairman Paul Watkins said homeless people are welcome to use public libraries and that many do without incident. But occasionally, some — possibly with mental illness, he said — have gawked at his wife and made her uncomfortable, he told the board Monday.
He said he’s also come across men in the restroom shaving or washing their hair.
Watkins called the proposed new rules “minor additions.”
Library policies already generally include provisions against threatening or abusive language or gestures, “using restrooms for other than intended purposes” and interfering with other visitors’ use of the library or staff’s ability to perform its duties. More specific rules prohibit smoking, sleeping, lying on furniture, eating and drinking, panhandling, making loud noises, having perfume or poor hygiene producing strong odors, and bringing in bedding, large bundles, shopping carts or bicycles.
Consequences can range from a verbal warning from staff to a one-year banishment from all city libraries.
Rules don’t single out offenders for being homeless. An encounter with a visitor bathing in the restroom could lead to simply letting the person know about resources available to people in need, a service the libraries already provide.
“We like to say we don’t like people to leave the library empty-handed,” Hetherton said.
He said the library system works closely with the Newport Beach Police Department’s homeless liaison officer, and a library manager recently took on homelessness coordination efforts based on her work with homeless library users.
The trustees will further discuss the possible new rules at their Jan. 21 meeting.
Davis writes for Times Community News.