BLOOMINGTON — A southern Indiana library is taking steps to restrict computer use and reduce clashes in response to rising numbers of altercations that have required calling police.
Arrests at the Monroe County Public Library in downtown Bloomington have tripled in the past six years, as have the number of reported assaults, The Herald-Times reported. The number of people considered "trespassers" rose from one in 2006 to 14 in the last year, according to Bloomington Police Department data.
Library director Sara Laughlin said the library tries to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone who ends up there — including the smokers, the drinkers and the enraged.
But increased reports of drunkenness and other issues have forced some changes in the library's environment and policies.
New white tile and additional lighting have been installed in the men's restroom to reduce vandalism. A tobacco-free policy that was enforced March 1 has helped improve the atmosphere near the Kirkwood and parking lot entrances.
More changes are coming. Landscaping crews will work to reduce large seating areas where groups gather and to add interactive and educational pieces. Staff also plan to review the library's Internet policy and consider filtering computers to reduce inappropriate websites, mainly in response to the handful of complaints each year about Internet pornography.
"We have avoided filtering in the past, because we believe in intellectual freedom," Laughlin said. Instead, the library has chosen in recent years to move computers to highly public areas.
Library officials also are looking to create "zones" to accommodate everyone and reduce clashes. They've found that some people want a place for quiet study and reading, and others want to have quiet conversations or work in groups. Other patrons might prefer to listen to music or peruse books with their children.
"We want to encourage all these uses and users, but are constantly challenged with their competing expectations and requirements," Laughlin said.
Another challenge is rising attendance, which officials attribute to the slumping economy, and an increase in the number of homeless people frequenting the area.
The library averages 3,100 visitors a day and saw more than 1.1 million visits in 2011, a 7 percent increase.
"There are a lot of people who come because they're unemployed or underemployed, looking for jobs, working on resumes," Laughlin said. "I think they're afraid. They're angry. They're worried. They're exhausted. Some people bring a load of problems to our door. We're a crossroads between the parks and the shelters, the campus and downtown."
Records show public intoxication complaints are five times the problem they were six years ago. Laughlin said library staff members regularly have to deal with drunks, but usually no more than 10 in a week.
Earlier this month, an intoxicated man was removed from the library four times in one day after patrons and staff found him passed out in two different chairs, then curled around a toilet, then lying in a bush.
When an intoxicated person is banned, staff members give them a card letting them know when they can return to the library. That way, when they're sober again, they'll remember they've been banned.
"We've discovered that many don't remember, otherwise," Laughlin said.