Hello again:

As promised in my statement issued on March 26 – and building on the exciting news/momentum of our having hired two experienced and local librarians as interim co-directors – the ad hoc committee/working group I am proud to chair has convened for five weeks running to discuss, debate, and brainstorm ways to address the well-known issues facing our library of late. Importantly, we’ve also been doing independent fact-finding and tackling individual assignments between meetings.

Today, I am pleased to report that our committee (again, comprised of both library Trustees and community members) voted on, endorsed, and issued a set of recommendations to the library’s Board of Trustees on April 5th. This vote was after we’d shared these same recommendations with library staff, as promised, via a survey to gain their feedback.

After making a couple adjustments based on staff responses — albeit not wholesale changes some may have hoped for given the approach of the previous Director and given relationships staff have worked hard to foster with many of our community’s marginalized folks — I am nevertheless gratified to say the committee’s recommendations were approved by the full Board of Trustees and will take effect Monday, April 22.

The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Make select updates to the library’s Patron Code of Conduct, including replacement of ambiguous wording which will make our rules easier to enforce and updates to some of those very rules, most notably:
    1. A prohibition of food and drink in the library unless they are part of library programming (e.g. Baby/Toddler time, Taste & Tell Cookbook Club, etc.), sanctioned special events, or done in accordance with limits set for staff (i.e. covered beverages only outside of our kitchen). This will reduce risk of damage to the facility/equipment/collections, help cap cleaning costs, reduce tidy-up demands on staff, and reduce distractions for other patrons.
    2. A prohibition on sleeping in the library.
    3. And clarification regarding the handling of, and expectations for, personal belongings. (It should be noted that we have not prohibited plastic bags or suitcases at this time – as such a rule could result in discrimination; however, we still strongly encourage our elected officials to arrive at a safe, secure, and humane storage option for our community’s unhoused population.)
  1. Engage a security specialist to aid in enforcement of the updated Patron Code of Conduct for the period of 8 weeks (starting April 22). Please bear in mind that we looked at several approaches to ‘adding security’ – including municipal and non-profit collaborations that offered the hope of achieving this goal at zero cost to the library. In the end, however, we will be engaging an exceedingly reputable security contractor (the same company that handles security at the Tompkins County Public Library), whose customer-service philosophy and experience with at-risk populations matches our own. Following this transitional period, our goal is to ‘evolve’ enforcement back to staff in a distributed fashion or even consider the hire of a resource officer. Only time will tell.
  1. Provide additional ‘navigator’ support for members of the at-risk population who may require other options or ways to cope in light of our updated rules and increased enforcement. This help will be provided onsite by non-profit organizations in our community; invites have been extended to, and interest has been shown by, Cayuga Area Recovery Services (CARS), Catholic Charities, Family Counseling Services, CAPCO, Access to Independence, and Rural Health Institute (previously CACTC). Be advised some of these same entities have already been collaborating with the library thanks to relationships established by our previous Director. The difference here, we hope, will be both increased volume and a schedule that consciously runs parallel with the aforementioned temporary security presence at the CFL.
  1. Promotion of, and stricter compliance with, the Federal Clean Air Act, which dictates a prohibition of all tobacco products both inside and within 100 feet of the entrance of public libraries. Increased signage, more frequent walk-by’s from the CPD, and increased attention to security camera views of our front steps will combine to make fuller enforcement possible. And, as a result, we anticipate several benefits, among them decreased litter (cigarette butts and wrappers in particular); easier breathing for non-smoking patrons or those with asthma/allergies; and a reduction in spontaneous social gatherings on our sidewalk and front steps (which is a safety hazard for patrons requiring a clear path or access to handrails).
  1. Other adjustments:
    1. More security camera signage, to discourage illegal or out-of-code behavior;
    2. New signs noting the prohibition of bathing/shaving in restrooms;
    3. Signage that clearly and concisely expresses the most critical rules of our Patron Code of Conduct at a glance and to all patrons entering the facility.
  1. Not altered is the sharps collection system in our restrooms, as both empirical studies and analysis of our own sharps containers demonstrate this is an effective and safe public health strategy.

It is my fervent hope that these measures – the first and most immediate from this committee – will begin to restore balance to our library and help restore the trust of patrons who’ve voiced concerns about our situation… Even if, as has been made clear, our situation was exacerbated by lack of a dedicated daytime warming/cooling/community center for this vulnerable population in Cortland; and even if what we’re facing is a localized symptom of a nationwide challenge.


PS: Ongoing thanks to members of the ad hoc committee/working group; to local officials who’ve made themselves available to CFL representatives over the last few weeks; to the network of social service agencies who’ve offered to help the library through this period; and, of course, to our exceptional staff, whose talent, dedication, patience, and hard work/grace under pressure has been critical during these challenging months.