The King County Library Service is examining different strategies to help local residents feel more safe at their library. While some changes may be made, like re-arranging furniture to decrease blind spots or getting rid of comfortable seating, others — like banning food or drink or sleeping in the library — appear to be a non-starter. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

The King County Library Service is examining different strategies to help local residents feel more safe at their library. While some changes may be made, like re-arranging furniture to decrease blind spots or getting rid of comfortable seating, others — like banning food or drink or sleeping in the library — appear to be a non-starter. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Residents’ voices heard on library safety

More than 70 percent of residents who took a City Council Public Safety Committee survey said they do not feel safe at the library.

Recently, the Enumclaw City Council’s Public Safety Committee asked residents if they feel safe at their local library.

Hundreds responded — and the answer is a clear “no.”

The issue of safety at the library has been an ongoing discussion in council. Most recently, the Public Safety Committee — comprised of council members Kyle Jacobsen, Beau Chevassus, and chair Chance La Fleur — released an online, anonymous survey ahead of a planned meeting with Lisa Rosenblum, the King County Library System’s director.

The sheer number of responses, which totaled more than 1,100, surprised the committee.

“It shocked the socks off of us,” Chevassus said, adding that the city normally gets no more than a hundred responses when it puts out surveys. “When it’s nearly 10 times the amount, clearly people are passionate about this topic.”

The survey asked two questions, one being, “Do you feel safe/secure at the Enumclaw Library?”

More than 70 percent, or 839 responses, said they did not.

The other question was, “One a scale of 1-10, would you recommend the Enumclaw Library to others?”

On average, the 1,174 responders gave a rating of 4.

It appears there were some respondents who took the survey more than once, but La Fleur said the committee took the results to the city’s IT Department, who determined any repeat responses were “negligible” to the overall response.

Finally, there was a comment section at the end of the survey, which more than 750 responders took advantage of, resulting in dozens of pages of remarks. Some comments have been edited for spelling and clarity.

Most appeared to be negative, and more than a few believe safety would not be an issue if the library had not become a part of KCLS.

“I do not feel safe going into my public library anymore,” one wrote. “The last time I was there, I needed to use the scan machine and computers to submit my homework online. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a homeless man asleep in the children reading area. After I finished, I was [walking] out [to] my car in the front parking lot, and a group of homeless men were catcalling me while following me to my car.”

“Before the library became a part of the KCLS I would have recommended the library as a 10,” a second commented. “It was a safe and friendly place. But the reason the rating has gone down is due to the loitering, drug use, and the unsavory people that it now attracts because nothing is done. Are we not allowed to have standards any more?”

“Our family used to enjoy going to the library to get books,” wrote a third. “Lately it seems there are many people using the library as a day shelter. Often times their behavior makes us uncomfortable to the point where we rush in and grab a few books and leave… we understand that you cannot arbitrarily choose who can stay in the library and for how long, but maybe you can be less tolerant of problem patrons.”

Others comments painted the library in a positive light.

“My family and I have never felt unsafe at the Enumclaw Library, and the librarians there are really nice,” someone commented. “There have been times, however, when community members have spoken harshly and in a condescending tone to others using the library, then complained to librarians that ‘those’ people shouldn’t be allowed to be in the library. And that’s not nice. Everyone can use the library if they mind their own business.”

“The library is a fantastic community resource and the staff does an excellent job walking a fine line between maintaining a library’s core values and policing,” wrote another.

“If your question is all about the handful of seemingly homeless people and wonder if I am bothered by them, I am not,” a second wrote in. “I am glad that these unfortunate souls have a safe place where they can hang out without being hassled… I am more bothered by parents who let their children run around unsupervised while they are doing their own thing, or those who just drop their kids off at the door and leave like the library is a good free babysitting service.”

Others still pointed out the problem isn’t the library, but a wider societal issue.

“Why does the library keep getting blamed for the community’s problems?” one comment reads. “If you have people experiencing homelessness in your community, drug use in your community, or rowdy unsupervised teens in your community those community problems will have a negative impact on the library.”

“Public libraries are reflections of the community,” was one response. “If the city council is concerned about safety in the library, perhaps the city needs to look at the community at large and solutions in the community. Focusing on one building will not fix a problem if the problem does not originate there.”

Both La Fleur and Chevassus said they were struck by how many people obviously valued the library and its services, despite how so many respondents said they felt unsafe in or around the building.

“Responses on either side of the opinion spectrum both showed a passion for what our library is or can be for our community,” La Fleur said.

Jacobsen said the first thing he noticed was the number of incidents that made people feel unsafe detailed in the comments were far more than the number of incidents reported the Enumclaw Police Department.

“If these are happening as frequently as is talked about in the comments, I would encourage people to call 911, just so we have it on record,” Jacobsen continued. “Those records are vitally important so that we can track patterns and see if what we are doing is helping or not helping.”

The three council members recently met with KCLS staff, including Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum, about the survey results and potential strategies for tackling the safety issue at the Enumclaw library.

“It was a wonderful meeting. They are definitely dealing with this on a grander scale beyond Enumclaw, but what was refreshing to hear was they still value Enumclaw just as much as, let’s say, the Burien King County Library, the Issaquah or Muckleshoot library,” Chevassus said.

Julie Acteson, KCLS’ director of community relations, said the library system and the Public Safety Committee will be working together to come up with a list of action items and a timeline for when to roll any changes out.

“We always want to work with the communities that our libraries are in,” Acteson continued. “This is obviously a community issue, so it’s going to take a collaborative spirit to come up with some solution that will hopefully mitigate some of the impacts that this situation is having.”

Jacobson and Chevassus said KCLS is already considering a few strategies, like potentially removing comfortable furniture to deter sleeping and loitering and re-arranging furniture and shelves to improve visibility in the library, but Jacobsen added residents shouldn’t expect any big policy changes to come from these discussions.

“There are quite a few system-wide standards that will not be able to be changed, like no food or drinks in the building — they’re not willing to do [that]. They’re not willing to change any sleeping policies. They’re only willing to put up loitering signs if we have a law that can enforce it, which makes that difficult with the 9th District court ruling on homelessness,” he continued, referring to the 2019 Martin v. Boise decision, which effectively protects a person’s right to sleep or camp in a public area if there aren’t enough shelter beds in the community.

All three council members stressed there will be no easy solutions to these issues.

“Director Rosenblum and her staff were receptive to hearing our community’s concerns and to explore options that we can work together on as partners in service to Enumclaw in regards to the library,” La Fleur said. “Things will not be a ‘quick fix’ by any means, but keeping the conversation going I view as key to addressing the community’s concerns.”

Though the Public Safety Committee’s survey is closed, its members meet at the Enumclaw Police Station at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of every month.

To report non-emergency safety issues at the Enumclaw library, the EPD’s non-emergency line is 360-825-3505.

Enumclaw City Council Public Safety Committee library survey results by Ray Still on Scribd

Editor’s note: The print version of the article contained the wrong contact information for the Enumclaw Police Department’s non-emergency line. The article has been updated.

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