WILKES-BARRE — One patron believes nothing has changed since a man allegedly assaulted an employee at the Osterhout Free Library in late July.
“People are too desensitized,” said the Wilkes-Barre man, who would only identify himself as Jim.
But Library Director Richard Miller assures patrons that the library is still a safe place, but he is quick to remind them it is also a public one.
“People must bear that in mind at the library or anywhere,” he said. “We must all be vigilant about our personal safety and that of our children.”
Miller said the vast majority of visitors to the library on South Franklin Street are respectful and appreciative of its services. And for many of those visitors — like those using the library to apply online for employment or to learn how to use a computer — the Osterhout is more necessity than luxury.
“That’s why we need to make sure the library is safe, open and well supported,” Miller said.
Some rules already in place require that visitors be using the library, remain awake in the library and refrain from using vulgar language on the premises, otherwise they may be asked to leave.
But “terrible incidents” like last month’s cannot always be anticipated, he added.
However, the library was taking steps toward becoming a safer place even before the alleged assault. It recently installed a $12,000 camera system, which Miller said was done in response to a handful of isolated incidents of theft or minor damage. Sixteen cameras cover nearly all of the building’s public areas.
The Osterhout also employs a guard service, which provides a presence during certain operational hours, he said, and city police also have established a patrol of the library.
“Unfortunately, one person cannot be everywhere downtown,” Miller said.
Following the assault incident, he added, the library increased the number of hours guards are present.
In September, Warren Graham, an authority on library safety and author of “the Black Belt Librarian,” will visit the library for a consultation, which Miller said was scheduled at least six months ago.
Surveillance cameras and a lone security guard aren’t enough, Jim, the patron, said last week, and he’d like to see an increased security presence in the library to act as a deterrent.
“You know why you keep a lock on your door? It’s to keep an honest man honest,” he said. “I didn’t know what that meant until recently.”
He said that he visits the library “not too often, but often enough,” primarily to use the internet to communicate with his sister.
Miller said the library is one part of its larger community, and as a community, it is necessary to consider the most effective balance of security and freedom.
“The desire to help the less fortunate is a good thing,” he said, “but compassion must come from a place of strength and have a purpose.”
But increased security comes with a price, and if the cost of making customers feel safe grows too high, Miller said, reductions in services and operating hours may become a possibility in the future.
That’s one sacrifice he said the library does not want to make.