The San Francisco Main Library remains a safe place for library patrons and families, and no one should fear visiting this wonderful facility.
Unfortunately, The Examiner’s Aug. 20 front-page headline, “Ugly chapter in library violence,” and your story headline, “Crime issues still vex library,” leave a wrong impression and could even lead some not to use this amazing city resource. As a parent of three young girls, I have no hesitation in coming to the Main Library with my family and I encourage other families and individuals to do likewise.
The San Francisco Main Library had almost 7 million visitors last fiscal year, a 10 percent increase from the prior year. While the library reported a mere 49 thefts (up from 43 in the prior year), the vast majority of those were library users failing to check out library materials, not stealing patrons’ possessions. This does not sound like a vexing crime issue requiring more police attention.
In addition, not one of the 38 assaults reported in the annual statistics was for a violent assault, and not one person was physically injured. They were actually verbal altercations or minor touching — all of which are reported as assaults. The number of drug-related incidents in fact went down last year, 33 versus 43 from the prior year. For a library that served almost 7 million visitors last year, these reported incidents are very minor and represent only a tiny fraction of users. Clearly, it is not an “Ugly Chapter in Library Violence.” In fact, given the demand for certain library services such as computers, the number of altercations is impressively low.
Still, the library is vigorously focused on public safety and had made a concerted effort to ensure all patrons are safe and comfortable, including a partnership with the Police Department for staffing, training and enforcement, enhanced security at entrances and exits, and clear behavioral rules.
As the library is open to all, it is often the only refuge for our homeless citizens. In a unique and innovative approach, the library has implemented an outreach program to assist our neediest visitors with a social worker and homeless services, a program that is considered a model for other urban libraries across the country.
As a result of these enhanced security initiatives and social service programs, the Main Library is in fact safer and cleaner than ever — which is what your headline should have said. But I guess good news does not grab the newspaper reader’s attention.
Larry Kane is a San Francisco Library Commissioner.