AUSTIN (KXAN) — At public libraries, everyone is welcome. Some critics question whether the resources to handle challenges that can come with the homeless population are there after the $125 million investment in a new Central Library. Many homeless frequented Faulk Central Library.
KXAN learned more about the recent training librarians have gone through and efforts to increase overall security at all 20 branches.
“When I moved here in 1966 this was such a quiet little town. It’s not any more. You know, I have the same kind of problems as far as security to deal with that the Houston Public Library or the Dallas Public Library has,” Austin Public Library Facilities Process Manager John Gillum said.
Though Gillum keeps a close eye on the branches, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once.
“We have a lot of problems with people coming in and behaving inappropriately, you know, being profane, bordering on violence, all the different things,” he said. “Vandalism of course is a big problem.”
Last month there were 186 instances of what the Austin Public Library calls “policy violations.” Vandalism topped the list, with 34 incidents. Disruptive use of library services came in second, followed by vulgar language and then harassment and abuse. The Cepeda branch had the highest number of incidents in September with 20, followed by the Little Walnut, then Ruiz and Faulk Central branches.
Gillum said they’re seeing issues more often than in the past, particularly when it comes to vandalism.
“We try to install security systems everywhere because the cameras are such a useful way of documenting what has gone wrong,” Gillum told KXAN.
But they don’t seem to be enough.
“I think we’re probably going to see a need to grow our security division and have more personnel so we can have more officers at locations,” Gillum said. “Right now we can’t station someone at every branch — we don’t have that kind of numbers — but we’d like to because a uniform is a really good deterrent to people who are thinking of doing some sort of mischief or criminal activity.”
Security is something Faulk Central Library historically struggled to address.
“I’ve driven past the old library plenty of times, and it just doesn’t feel like a safe spot for people to be,” Austinite Sandra Dever said of the Faulk branch, which closed mid-September. “There’s usually police officers assisting whatever’s going on with people outside the library. The new location with the Seaholm District may be a better fit for a library.”
Moving forward, Gillum says the library system is enhancing how it interacts with its homeless customers.
“We have homeless people that come in and use the library every day appropriately and are valued customers of ours. They do have some special needs and we’re trying to be better at that. We’ve accepted that that’s part of our role as librarians and so we are training staff in how to help them find the resources that they need and that training will be ongoing,” Gillum said, adding, “We are developing the training more and more now. It’s going to be part of everybody’s orientation that comes to work for the library department.”
KXAN learned a social work intern from Texas State will be stationed part-time at the new Central Library to provide counseling and connect homeless individuals with resources in the community. Under a 2-year grant, Austin Public Library had three interns stationed at different branches. But that grant expired in August, so right now there is only one. The library hopes in the future, the city will provide a full-time social worker.