Lawrence Public Library wants to address community members’ safety concerns, director writes

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Staff members of the Lawrence Public Library have heard safety concerns from community members, and they want to take action to improve the situation.

Brad Allen, director of the library, wrote in an email to cardholders Wednesday that a survey the library conducted over the summer yielded a shared concern from respondents regarding safety.

“Lawrence Public Library is an anchor of the community and should be shaped to meet community needs,” Allen wrote. “While some change takes time, some recommendations require immediate action.”

Allen’s email did not reference any specific incidents of concern. But there are a wide range of calls to law enforcement in the area of the library regularly, and often multiple calls per day, the Lawrence Police Department’s call logs show.

“We acknowledge Lawrence community members’ concern for the library to remain a safe and respectful environment for all its users,” Allen’s email continued. “We are taking action to ensure behavior that disturbs others’ use of the library, creates an unsafe environment, impedes the work of library staff, or creates a risk of damage to library property is not permitted.”

The library is actively reinforcing its behavior policy, Allen wrote. Behavior that violates local, state or federal law is prohibited, according to the policy. Unacceptable behaviors also include being in possession or under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the library; smoking inside or within 25 feet of library entrances; using obscene, abusive or threatening language; fighting; carrying a weapon into the library “unless authorized by law” and more, the policy states.

LPL is also increasing the presence of security staff inside and outside during hours of operation and working with city leaders and experts, Allen wrote.

Wednesday’s statement was in response to behavior and safety concerns that cardholders have expressed, he wrote.

“Lawrence Public Library aims to uphold the safety of all walks of life who visit the library,” the email continued. “We also work to decrease the stigma against activity which may be alarming and shocking in nature caused by persons experiencing substance use disorder, housing insecurity, mental illness, and/or any reason for distress in a public space, but do not condone disruptive, unsafe, and/or illegal behavior.”

Allen also wrote that he must be transparent and share that some spaces of the library campus are under other jurisdiction; for instance, the lawn and parking garage near the library are owned by the city.

“The library is working with the City to better address disruptive behavior in these spaces,” Allen wrote.

Allen wrote that LPL thanks its community partners, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the City of Lawrence Homeless Programs Team, Lawrence Parks and Recreation, and LPD, “who are helping us in our action steps to keep the library a safe place of shared spaces and shared stories.”

“We acknowledge safety is an ongoing community conversation, and we are committed to addressing concerns and doing all we can to make our spot downtown feel safe for current and future users of our library,” Allen wrote. “We are here for you, we hear you, and we want to continue to hear from you.”

Allen’s email concluded: “If you experience or witness behavior that is cause for safety concern, please report it to the library as soon as safely possible.”

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