Plan to take new library back

Locals enjoy reading and wandering the second floor of the new library Saturday.

Gilroy police, City Council, and library staff have teamed up to tackle the problem of raucous teens defiling the brand-new $34 million library building, promising the community that the issue will be reined in before the summer’s end.

Considering how destructive and uncontrollable teens have been since the library on Rosanna and Sixth streets opened on April 28 – getting away with everything from tagging the elevators to spitting from the balcony to riding skateboards on the second floor – library staff believes they must move swiftly to squelch the problem before it gets worse.

“That library belongs to the people and we’re not going to let a couple of kids mess it up for the whole community,” said Councilman Dion Bracco, who sits on the library joint powers authority board.

Because of the incidents, the library will now enforce a zero-tolerance plan for misbehaving teens. Rules of conduct will be posted in plain sight, and if someone is caught disobeying a rule, they will be asked to leave. If they do not leave when asked, staff will call police to have them arrested for trespassing.

Police Chief Denise Turner, who has fully backed the library’s efforts to curb the problem of unruly teens, met with county library management on June 18 to brainstorm possible solutions.

“The chief is on board with this, so that will make a huge difference,” Bracco said.

“As far as the police department’s role we’ll take appropriate action and step in,” said Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. “We want to make sure we can support them. This is not just a library problem, it’s a city problem and involves us,” he said.

Police hammer down

Starting this week, police will conduct impromptu walk-throughs of the library building.

“Our presence should let people know that we are there to help the library staff,” Gallacinao said. “Just even having an officer walk-through can remind kids of who is in charge.”

Also starting this week, patrons can expect to be greeted by staff with a handout detailing library rules, so that there are no excuses for bad behavior, Bracco said.

While hiring a security guard is another option that has been discussed, the library joint powers authority, a board of directors that oversees the county library system, considers that a “last resort” move – for financial reasons and more.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to have one for a short time, and we’ve seen it work for other libraries. But I think that there is other ways to deal with this than go through a security guard,” Bracco said. “Security guards make people uncomfortable – the vast majority of people who go to the library aren’t causing problems, and we just want to go read books, not have a guard watching us.”

Head Librarian Lani Yoshimura agreed – while she in some ways pines for a security guard to help lessen the burden of policing teens, she doesn’t want it to compromise the library’s environment.

“In some ways it’s wonderful to have a security guard, because it supports the staff, but it does make some people uncomfortable,” Yoshimura said. “I’m not sure it’s the big answer for us.”

Saralyn Otter, who is the supervising children’s librarian at the Morgan Hill Library, said the Morgan Hill Library staff have never faced – at least in the six years she has worked there – the type of teen defilement issues that Gilroy has. They don’t use surveillance cameras (they aren’t even installed), nor have they had to call the police  for problems with teens.

In the last few months, Otter said she has come across a handful of people who have found solace in the Morgan Hill Library after being turned off by the teens at the Gilroy Library.

“A few people have been concerned with what is going on there and felt a little better coming here,” she said.

Otter said that Gilroy’s location near several schools and lower income neighborhoods lends itself to loitering teens, and that the building’s massive size gives teens the feeling of anonymity to behave as they please.

But despite the challenges the Gilroy Library faces, Bracco encouraged Gilroy citizens to take responsibility for their library.

“Don’t just say ‘well I’m not going to go there anymore.’ Don’t let these kids run you out of your own library. These kids need to know these citizens of Gilroy paid for this library for them and they need to respect it,” she said.

Misbehaving? You’re on candid camera

After two months of technical issues, the library’s surveillance camera system, which includes 32 cameras inside and outside the building, is finally working. Over the weekend, Yoshimura said she caught some teens throwing trash over the balcony.

When the teens tried to deny it, Yoshimura told them she caught them on camera – much to the teen’s shock – and kicked them out of the building.

Yoshimura said she’s felt “very supported” by the police recently, through the chief’s willingness to support the zero-tolerance plan and to send patrol officers occasionally to the library.

As luck would have it, Yoshimura said the family of a prime teen troublemaker moved out of town last week, shifting the attitude and hierarchy of his formerly rowdy group.

“We are well on our way on getting back into the business of being a library,” Yoshimura said with a sigh. “At this point I’d like to get back to being a librarian and having our library function the way it should.”

Yoshimura said that her staff is inspired by the outpouring of community support after the Gilroy Dispatch published a June 15 story about destructive teens at the library.

“It’s great to know everybody is behind us,” Yoshimura said.

Yoshimura said as daunting and challenging as these times have been, she’s confident that this will go down as yet another example how Gilroyans rose above obstacles in their fight to provide a great library for the community.

“I know that it’s not over yet,” Yoshimura said, referring to the constant battle she’s faired for keeping the library a safe and welcoming place for all. “But when I look back on this time, I think I’ll say it was pretty great.”

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