It’s common for families to feel comfortable and safe at libraries, surrounded by literature and quiet.
But Puyallup Public Library director Patty Ayala Ross said there are reasons for public library users — especially parents — to err on the side of caution when coming to the library.
“This is a very public space,” Ross said.
Since Ross started her role as Puyallup’s library director in February 2016, she’s seen families and students gather at the library — but inebriated and mentally ill individuals as well. She’s seen fights break out. Every month, the board reports on how many tresspasses occur over that month.
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That’s not a story people hear. The truth is that we get most of the public. (The library) is the most public space right now.
Patty Ayala Ross, Puyallup Public Library director
“That’s not a story people hear,” Ross said. “The truth is that we get most of the public. (The library) is the most public space right now.”
It’s part of the reason why, as director, Ross is updating library policies. First, she changed the library’s fee policies, eliminating late fees on children and young adult materials. Now, she’s tackling those relating to safety.
At an Aug. 22 meeting, the library board passed an “Unattended Child Policy,” which was updated by Ross.
The previous “Unattended Child Policy,” which was last updated in 2014, stated that it’s not the role of library staff to provide childcare, and that a responsible adult or caregiver should accompany children while they are using the library at all times.
The updated policy specifically defines that an “‘unattended child’ is a child 8 years old or younger or a vulnerable/disabled child of any age left without a parent, guardian or of-age caregiver at the library.”
The updated policy also states that while library staff can assist patrons with library resources, they cannot act in place of a parent.
“(Child safety) is our first response,” Ross said.
Children must be supervised by a parent, guardian or other responsible party of at least 13 years of age, including during events and programs sponsored by the library.
It’s also for the simple reason that library staff aren’t equipped to do so. Children must be supervised by a parent, guardian or other responsible party of at least 13 years of age, including during events and programs sponsored by the library.
If a child is left unattended, library staff will attempt to reach the parent or guardian, but if they cannot be found within the library or cannot be reached by phone, the library will contact local law enforcement.
The library has a good relationship with the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Unit at the Puyallup Police Department, Ross said.
“To have police who are very community-minded is great,” Ross said.
“We’re walking through (the library) on a very regular basis,” said Puyallup police Capt. Scott Engle.
And while those walkthroughs are mostly just check-ins, Engle said the department worked diligently in the past year to provide training and advice —such as being sure to stick to library policy — to library staff members so they are better equipped to handle situations in the library.
“You’ve got to enforce the code of conduct and you’ve got to be consistent about it,” Engle said.
If a child is left unattended past closing hours, staff will wait ten minutes before law enforcement is called. Children 13 and older can be left to wait for a ride unless staff finds the child to be unsafe.
Ross only recalled two incidents where a child was left unattended past closing hours in her time as library director, but that leaving children unattended inside the library is more often than not a daily occurrence.
Even inside, we want (parents) to stay with them because it’s a public space.
Patty Ayala Ross
“Even inside, we want (parents) to stay with them because it’s a public space,” Ross said at the board meeting.
The five members of the board were in agreement with Ross, passing the updated policy.
“It empowers and forgives the library staff,” said board member Jee Hamburg.
Other board members said that Ross was doing a great job updating the policies.
“They just needed to be tweaked,” said board member Sharon Shaw.
The board will look at the “Public Use of Children’s Areas” policy next to help staff regulate access to children and teen areas and inform the public of their intended use. For the full list of policies, visit cityofpuyallup.org/667/Policies.