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[BKARTS] Throwing the book at library criminals

Throwing the book at library criminals


March 10, 2005

ONE of Sydney's busiest libraries has been hit by a spate of criminal
incidents, including a sexual assault, rising verbal abuse of staff and

Willoughby Council has introduced a "code of conduct" to help control unruly
patrons at its Chatswood library.

A report to the council on Monday night said anti-social behaviour was on
the rise.

"The anti-social behaviour includes threatening staff members, intimidating
staff, swearing at staff and library patrons and disruptive behaviour which
prevents patrons from being able to use the library in comfort," the report

"There have also been occurrences of criminal behaviour, principally theft
of laptops, handbags and shopping. There have, however, been additional
unusual criminal activities.

"There have been two occurrences of sex-related crime, one a sexual assault
and one sexually offensive behaviour/voyeurism."

The new rules will allow council to suspend patrons for up to one year.
Patrons who ignore this exclusion order and enter the library can be fined

Willoughby general manager John Owen yesterday said more than 850,000 people
visited the library each year.

He said problems hade been caused by a "small minority".

The sexual assault in August last year involved a young man who displayed
his penis to a volunteer library worker, then rubbed it against her body, Mr
Owen said.

Mr Owen said the council was disappointed the man had a charge against him

In another incident, youths screwed a hole in a wall to look into the girls'
toilet, but escaped with a police caution.

There are about 40 full-time staff working in the library, as well as
several volunteers.

Library manager Frances Sims said there were about a dozen incidents a year
in which librarians were abused by customers.

She said an elderly volunteer had been "shocked" by the flashing incident
while the peephole in the toilets was discovered by another staff member
doing a regular patrol of the library.

"We have regular patrols during after-school time, in which we look in nooks
and crannies, and we found the youth there looking through the hole," she

The "code of conduct" will ban disruptive behaviour, selling things, theft,
loitering and intimidation and harassment of any person on the premises.

Librarian Margaret Gaunt, who has been working at Chatswood for more than 20
years, said she had never been abused by a customer.

"It's not an every day occurrence, I've worked here for a long time and it's
quite random," she said.

"We will often get a difficult customer but staff are well-trained and we
try to deal with people."


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