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.
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.