OC Board of Supervisors to Vote on New Library Rules

Shhhhhhh! Photo: SLGCKGC/Flickr

Just what we need: more rules. The Orange County Board of Supervisors will vote on new rules and regulations for library users at its upcoming Aug. 13 meeting.

OC Public Libraries is supported by the taxes of the people of the County of Orange,” states the proposed 2019 library rules. “People expect their library facilities to be safe, clean, and comfortable. To this end, OC Public Libraries has established rules of conduct to ensure that the rights of patrons, volunteers and staff are preserved and library property is protected.”

Much of what’s in the proposed 2019 rules is identical to the rules adopted in 2012. And to be fair, a lot of that is reasonable and perhaps even necessary (I’m certainly not arguing against the prohibition against “Harassing behavior toward any person in the library, including but not limited to staring, stalking, lurking, repeated unwanted personal and/or embarrassing questions or attention in person or via electronic communication”). The new rules also include more detailed appeal procedures for those who get their library privileges suspended.

But other rules straight up criminalize homeless people:

2. Entering the building without covering on their upper or lower bodies or without shoes or other footwear. Patrons whose bodily hygiene is offensive as to constitute a nuisance to other persons shall be required to leave the building.

5. Using restrooms for bathing, shampooing, shaving, doing laundry, changing clothes, using drugs or engaging in sexual acts.

6. Trespassing on library grounds and/or using library property in a manner inconsistent with its intended use of selecting materials, reading, researching, studying, writing, and attending programs and/or meetings held during business hours and/or within library buildings.

7. Sleeping.

8. Bringing in personal items more than 2 feet in length or height. A maximum of 2 bags of any type will be allowed. Personal property must be within sight of the owner at all times.

The “offensive” body hygiene clause in Rule #2 may even be unconstitutional. In his June 2018 American Libraries Magazine article “The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness,” Ryan J. Dowd wrote that a previous court case involving this didn’t go the library’s way:

Armstrong v. District of Columbia Public Library (2001): Richard Armstrong tried to enter Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., one February afternoon. A security guard stopped him, saying that he needed to “clean up” before he could come in. Ultimately, the court held that the library’s policy against “objectionable appearance” was unconstitutional because it was too vague.

By contrast, Dowd recommended that librarians consider what happened at Helen Plum Library in Lombard, Illinois. That facility “got rid of all its rules and replaced them with a single rule: No one is allowed to interfere with someone else’s use of the library,” Dowd wrote. “As long as a patron isn’t bothering anyone else, they can do whatever they want.”

The Orange County Board of Supervisors will take up the new library rules at its Aug. 13 meeting. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. Click here to view the full agenda for the meeting.

Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.

4 Replies to “OC Board of Supervisors to Vote on New Library Rules”

  1. With the Homeless population at a all time high in every state, but here in California it’s out of control… Most residents have internet; whereas the majority can access book’s on line. Why is it impossible for the residents of these city’s not to be able to use their Library’s due to the Homeless population. I fully understand that many of the Homeless population has some sort of mental illness, drug and or alcohol addiction . Today society calls alcohol and or drug addiction a disease. I understand many youth’s believe they’re indestructible, and try, or use drug’s and or alcohol at a very early age; therefore causing a mutation on brain cells. This cause and effect now starts the vicious cycle of mental illness and addition issue’s. The motto “Just say No to Drug’s and Alcohol” with parent’s doing their do diligence on knowing what your children are up to will help curb this issue… Now back to being offended and nauseated by uncleanliness, and those carrying bugs. These new rules are for the public’s safety, and health. Where I’m living you must leave the entire property if you choose to smoke, and what I’ve had to encounter with Homeless people is not just the offensive odor from not bathing, they continue to bagger you for cigarettes, lighters, and money, most get extremely upset when you say no. Many have become violent. Our Library’s are not “Rest Stops, laundromat, or showers”… The day’s of quiet enjoyment of reading or finding a great book is over unless we have rules in effect.

    1. We as a county cannot make laws to deal with homelessness. We have to address the problem of HOMELESSNESS! Research shows that no one wants to be homeless. Many homeless citizens have turned to substance abuse to self medicate. If a human is dealing with severe mental health issues and has no way to get help then many turn to substances to help them cope. We have to deal with health care/mental health care to deal with the issue of homelessness. Not criminalizing the most vulnerable in society. How many of us have a family member who is suffering from some mental health crisis? Let’s address this issue.

  2. These rules have been in place since 2012. They used to have the don’t bother anyone catch all rule, and it was too vague to address the problems in our libraries. They have many homeless who are able to use the library without violating the rules. If you read the rules honestly, the bar is very low. And Ryan Dowd ran a homeless shelter, not a library. The only rule he disagreed with was the sleeping rule. But is the library a bedroom or a shelter? No.

  3. A library is not designed to be a “hang out” for anyone.
    It’s a place to learn, read and educate minds young and old.
    It’s a place people should be able to feel safe and not threatened.
    A place for families to learn, share stories and explore the world, explore history, explore the silliness of some authors great imaginations.
    Anyone who causes people to feel threatened or unsafe, should be asked to leave.
    Why should one person be allowed to disrupt the many?

    Jim Reede
    Laguna Hills

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