GLENS FALLS -- New Crandall Public Library Director Kathy Naftaly is cracking down on disruptive behavior at the library.
In the past, people who disrupted library users and staff by loud talking, horseplay, drunk and disorderly or harassing conduct, were typically asked to leave the library for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday, on her first official day as library director, Naftaly got permission from the library board to suspend library privileges of violators for a year.
The suspension would include being banned from the library building and the section of Glens Falls City Park directly outside the library for a year.
“I would like your permission to tell security and staff: No more of this,” she said at a regularly scheduled library board meeting on Wednesday.
“I suspect for the next month or so, we may have a lot of suspensions,” she said.
Some habitual disruptive patrons have been suspended previously as a last resort, but now the library will issue suspensions for a first offense.
Anyone suspended will have the right to appeal the suspension to the library board.
Since 2009, the library has suspended library privileges of 38 people, mostly for habitual disruptive behavior, Naftaly said.
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On Wednesday, the library suspended the library privileges of Foster M. Bills of Stony Creek, who police said had been advertising on the Craigslist online marketplace for men to meet him in the library’s bathroom for sexual encounters.
Naftaly said after the library board meeting that “less than five” of the suspensions were for viewing inappropriate material on library computers.
The library rarely finds that people have viewed pornography on library computers, she said.
Naftaly said a few disruptive people are ruining the peaceful experience for others who come to the library.
Naftaly also had a staff member revise the language of the library’s rules for behavior, to bring more clarity.
“In time, I expect we will get out that this is not a free-for-all,” she said.
The revised rules clarify guidelines for cellphone use, stipulating that conversations be quiet and short.
“Cellphones are here, they’re here to stay. It’s the behavior with the cellphones — not that they are talking — which is the issue,” Naftaly said.
Library board President Sanford Searleman said he was concerned that the library will become too sterile of an environment.
He said libraries are supposed to be community gathering places.
“Do we have a place in the library for conversation?” he asked.
Naftaly said she is working with the architects who designed the library to designate an area for conversation.
She said she is not opposed to neighborly conversation in the library.
“That means it’s a living place, she said.
“I think it’s about ambience and a culture,” said Denise Troelstra, a library trustee.
Problems with disruptive behavior are not unique to Glens Falls, said librarians at two other city libraries.
“We do have the same issues, I’m sure, that Crandall is facing,” said Carol Nursinger, executive director of Albany Public Library.
Books, DVDs, computer use and the services that libraries provide attract a variety of people, she said.
“It’s a public place. It is a place for people to gather,” she said.
“Any place where the public gathers, and public libraries in particular, can be places where those that do have some issues, whether they are homeless or mentally ill, spend a good bit of time here. We, too, obviously, try to curb that behavior,” said Karen Bradley, director of Schenectady County Public Library.
At the library’s central branch in Schenectady, county sheriff’s deputies are stationed at the library for half the hours the library is open.
“If they’re present in the building, they deal with it and they address it. Obviously, a person in a uniform usually generates respect,” she said.
Albany Public Library has its own security staff, and Crandall Public Library contracts with a private security firm.
Crandall Public Library pays about $46,000 a year for security guards to be on duty whenever the library is open, Naftaly said.
The Glens Falls Police Department has a security guard who patrols City Park, outside the library, during the summer months, and occasionally walks through the library, if needed.
City Police have dealt with disruptive behavior in City Park, as well.
“I’m reluctant to say it’s kids. These are adults,” said city Police Chief Will Valenza, who said many of the people police get complaints about are in their 20s.
Valenza said there doesn’t appear that the library necessarily is drawing disruptive people to the park.
“It’s (City Park) a place that’s centrally located for them to congregate,” he said.
Naftaly said disruptive behavior inside the library seems to be worse when the weather is bad.
Richard Leonelli, a library board member, said it is important to publicize the library’s rules.
“It’s going to be a big change. It’s going to be hard on the staff,” she said.
“I trust our staff and I trust the security, with a little direction on our part, to handle it fairly,” Naftaly said.