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Public library staff demand security guards amid San Francisco drug crisis

A person lies on a sidewalk next to a building with "LIBRARY" banners, urban setting, daytime.
A person sits on the sidewalk outside main branch of the San Francisco public library on Monday. Librarians are demanding that the city staff public libraries with security guards. | Source: David Sjostedt/ The Standard

San Francisco Public Library workers plan to rally Tuesday, demanding the city provide security guards at all branches to protect staff and patrons amid a rise in dangerous incidents.

Most of the city's 28 library locations lack dedicated security officers, and librarians and other workers say they've been forced to intervene in dangerous situations that sometimes turn physical, according to a Monday press release from Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents library workers at the city's public branches. The workers are demanding the change as they negotiate with officials for new contracts.

"There's tension in the air when there is no trained security around to de-escalate situations," said Jessica Choy, a part-time librarian, in the press release. She said at one branch, she recently approached a man who swore at other patrons and then kicked in a glass door.

Choy said having guards at every site "would be a better solution than hoping librarians are able to handle potentially dangerous situations alone."

Michelle Jeffers, a spokesperson for the library, told The Standard on Tuesday that not all of the library's locations need security guards, saying that the institution relies on data to determine which branches require patrol officers. According to Jeffers, security incidents are down 13.8% year-over-year as of February and that there were seven branches with zero incidents and six with just one during that time.

"In the month of March, we had a total of 114 security incidents across the system, out of some 320,000 visitors to our libraries that month," Jeffers said in an email. "Statistically speaking that volume is very low, especially when you consider that our libraries are all open seven days per week, for a total of 1,462  weekly hours of operation."

She added that 12 branches plus the main library currently have dedicated on-site security officers. There is also a mobile team that is available to respond to incidents at locations without an officer.

The call for higher security comes as the city cracks down on open-air drug use and dealing near U.N. Plaza, which is a stone's throw from the city's main library branch. For years, the plaza has been considered the epicenter of San Francisco's drug crisis.

The city opened a skate park at U.N. Plaza in November, an initiative officials hoped would make the public square safer and more inviting.

"We're open to every member of the public seven days a week," Choy said. "Our job is to ensure equitable access for everyone, which is why we're fighting for more full-time jobs and more security guards."