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Lawrence Public Library bans smoking, verbal harassment and more from its campus under new code of conduct

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The Lawrence Public Library has rolled out new rules for its campus and lawn — including banning smoking, vaping and verbal harassment — and prescribed consequences for breaking them.

Repeated instances of such behavior could now get a patron suspended for a period of a week to six months, under the library’s new code of conduct. Violent or threatening behavior may result in longer or indefinite suspensions.

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The library has received numerous complaints from patrons about safety issues in and around the library. Library administrators pledged to improve public safety in the library, but the lawn and parking garage are owned by the City of Lawrence. That has limited staff members’ ability to address issues that may arise: for instance, the library can eject or ban people, but those people could still hang out outside.

The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday approved an agreement to lease the library plaza, the yard directly south of the library building, to the library for $1 per year for five years.

With the new lease agreement, the library can extend its behavior policies to the whole campus, which includes “the library itself, the Library Plaza, Reader’s Garden, and green spaces surrounding the library on Vermont, Kentucky, and 7th Streets up to the public sidewalk,” according to the library’s website.

The parking garage, however, is still city property, and patrons should direct concerns to the parking department, according to an email to library cardholders.

These highlighted maps from the Lawrence Public Library’s website illustrate the areas of the Library Plaza (left) and Library Campus. (Screenshot of lplks.org)

Libraries are for everyone and all are welcome at the library and on its campus — just not all behaviors,” Heather Kearns, marketing and patron experience supervisor, wrote in the email. “With this lease, we are better equipped to prevent behavior that disturbs shared use of the library, creates an unsafe environment, impedes the work of library staff, or creates a risk of damage to library property.”

The library’s green space is now open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and closed the rest of the time, with the exception of official library events that may go later into the night. In addition, “the green space will be reserved only for official library-sponsored and library partner events moving forward,” according to the website.

“This is a process and part of an ongoing community conversation,” Kearns wrote. “We appreciate your patience as we navigate our new relationship with the space and roll out our new outdoor behavior guidelines.”

Kearns wrote that since August, the library’s leadership team has met with various community partners, including Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Mobile Response Team, the Treatment & Recovery Center, Lawrence Parks and Recreation, and Misty Bosch-Hastings, the city’s homeless programs coordinator, “to work together to make library outdoor spaces as safe as possible for all visitors and patrons.”

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According to the website, the following are banned: littering; alcohol or drug use; verbal harassment; off-leash or free-roaming animals; illegal activity; camping; and smoking or vaping. Smoking was previously prohibited within 25 feet of the library doors but not on the rest of the outdoor space.

The code of conduct lists additional banned behaviors and various levels of disciplinary actions, which could include making a police report:

20231110-Library-Campus-Code-of-Conduct

The public is invited to the lawn to have picnics, do cartwheels, read on a blanket and even watch the sunset —”But to ensure that everyone feels welcome here, we ask everyone to be respectful of each other and library property,” she wrote.

The library asks that anyone who experiences or witnesses behavior that is cause for safety concern to please report it to the library as soon as safely possible.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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