Gilroy Librarian Elizabeth Munoz power-walked to a group of loud teens who crowded a walkway on the second floor of the library and asked them calmly to quiet down on a recent weekday afternoon. She rushed back to her desk, where a line of patrons had amassed in the few seconds since she stepped away.
Munoz pointed a young family to the language development section, taught a senior how to look up DVDs in the electronic catalogue and ordered a novel for a 16-year-old that was out of stock.
In between helping people, Munoz coolly hollered, “No running!” to a few young teens who chased one another through the shelves.
“I have to be laid back or I’d go crazy,” Munoz said.
Nearly two months since the grand opening of Gilroy’s beautiful new $34 million library facility on April 28, library staff has conceded that the problem of unruly teens is bigger than they can control.
Bathroom mirrors have been covered in lipstick, elevators have been urinated in and tagged, seniors on walkers have nearly been plowed into by teens racing scooters or skateboards down aisles, and fighting teens have had to be broken up.
“The kids have been completely atrocious,” Lani Yoshimura, head librarian said. A staff of 12 cover a colossal 52,000-square-foot building, so staff spends much of their time zipping from one out-of-control group of teens to another.
“Even if we had a staff double the size, this would still be difficult to deal with,” Yoshimura said.
As of June 11, police have been called to respond to eight calls from staff and anonymous citizens about “juvenile disturbances” at the library. Often by the time police arrive, however, the issue has been resolved or the teens can’t be found – so not much has gone down in the way of police enforcement.
According to Gilroy Police Department reports, police have also made three routine walk-throughs at the library since the opening two months ago.
Yoshimura said much of the damage that teens cause at the library hasn’t been attended to by police, such as how they spit over the balcony into the lobby.
“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but we have so much of it going on we can’t control it. But how do you classify spit to police?” she said.
Munoz said that while the issue has gotten slightly better during the last few weeks, library staff is “desperate” for something to change, and has tossed out the idea to hire a security guard to curb the problem.
“It is tough, as a librarian to establish the kind of relationships we want with teens when we have to constantly be policing them,” Munoz said. “The environment can get pretty tense here.”
In the meantime, library staff has focused on enforcing consistent rules. The newest rule is a ban on skateboards and scooters, because of dangerous situations that arose from teens riding them upstairs.
Learning the names of some of the more problem-causing teens is another trick staff employs.
“It helps if they know that we know who they are,” Munoz said.
Munoz also hopes that the 42 teen volunteers the library recruited for the summer will serve as a good example for other teens.
Munoz said in the weeks before school let out for the summer, the most challenging hours were during that after school window in the afternoon. Now since school is out, rowdy teens show up at more unpredictable times throughout the day.
Caryn Laird, 43, perused the new book section on the second floor with her 13-year-old daughter Linda on Wednesday afternoon.
“This is a brand-new, beautiful building,” Laird said. “Where is the respect?”
But beyond the vandalism and the skateboarding, it’s the teens’ foul language that bothers Laird the most.
“Every other word is an f-bomb, and I’m kind of sick of it,” she said.
Laird visits the library about once a week, but the last few times she has been discouraged from coming back.
“Sometimes I think, ‘OK, I’m done, I’ll go to the Morgan Hill Library next time, where I don’t have to deal with this,’” Laird said.
Laird is puzzled as to why the Gilroy Police don’t patrol the library more often.
“This is city property, right? And the police department is like, right there,” Laird said, referring to the fact that the GPD is located across the street. “How hard would it be for them to stroll over here? Just having someone walk through could keep things under control around here.”
Morgan Hill police do not do walk-throughs at the Morgan Hill Library either, according to Peggy Tomasso, head librarian.
Not all library patrons expressed such exasperation as Laird did. Jesus Becerra, 30, sat quietly with his laptop near a window on the second floor.
“To say the teens are bothering me would be pretty extreme,” Becerra said, who acknowledged that the teens can get loud sometimes, but believes that libraries shouldn’t be the stuffy, quiet places they once were.
“And I’d rather have them be here than out on the streets,” he said.
Many teens use the library to do homework, meet friends and check out the latest novel in a series without ever getting too rowdy.
Three teens visited quietly on a couch near the adult nonfiction section on the second floor, propping their feet on an ottoman – and although they’ve seen their peers get disciplined or kicked out, they said they themselves haven’t caused any problems.
“We don’t think the people that work here are even that strict,” said Karina Rivas, 16.
“Yeah, we come and hang out here and never get in trouble. You just need to use common sense,” said Miguel Lugo, 17.
But as the Biblical adage goes, a little yeast works its way through a whole lump of dough– or in other words – it only takes a few raucous teens to sour everyone’s experience.
Nancy Howe, head county librarian, said the issue of out-of-control juveniles is a top priority for the library at the county level.
“It’s something we’re talking about very often and very seriously,” Howe said. “We definitely want the library to be a welcoming place for teens, but still make sure that it is inviting to all age groups as well.”
Howe is in the process of planning a community meeting in Gilroy to draw on all different resources, including police, city officials, the school district, library staff and community members. The date for this meeting has not been established.
Meanwhile, the library is brainstorming solutions to the problem, including recruiting a security guard, something that hasn’t been tried in any of the other eight county branches. Hiring a security guard would be an expense to the library, Howe said, but so is sitting back and doing nothing – especially when it comes to having to constantly repair vandalized property.
Howe is confident that the problem will get resolved.
“We’ve been off to a rocky start,” she said. “But the thing that gives me hope is that the library is such a respected and revered organization in the community. In time, it will be clear that everyone who walks in those doors will respect it.”
Howe isn’t a stranger to unruly teens at libraries. At the Saratoga Library, the city addressed the issue by sending a letter home with every child at public school, reminding parents about library rules, and asking them to teach their children to respect the library. Howe said the letters alleviated the problem, and she is open to trying something similar in Gilroy.
“This is a whole community issue, not just a library issue,” she said. “The new library is absolutely beautiful, and we want to make it a safe, welcoming place for everyone. We have every intention of addressing this problem right away.”
Sunday, Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Wednesday, Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.