A bill making its way through the state legislature could make libraries a lot quieter if it becomes law.
Senate Bill 813 would make it a misdemeanor for someone to refuse to leave a library after being asked to do so by a library staff member, or to return to the library after being banned. Violators could face a fine of up to $200 or 30 days in jail.
The bill is sponsored by a York County legislator and is backed by nine other senators. It was approved by the Senate last week in a 32-6 vote and is now in the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, and Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, each voted in favor of it.
Massey said libraries around the state have difficulty with people coming in and being disruptive.
“The library staff hasn’t had the tools in order to combat that,” he said. “This is just making it easier for them. If they call the police, the police can actually make them leave.”
The bill would “put more teeth” into libraries’ code of conduct policies, according to Mary Jo Dawson, director of the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library. Currently, library staffers can ask someone to leave if they are being disruptive, but there is nothing in the law preventing them from returning the next day.
Dawson believes the bill will become law, but noted that there are some conditions.
“It would have to be done in the presence of law enforcement when we do ask someone to leave the building,” she said, adding that they will give a patron written notice that the law has been violated.
The ABBE system has 14 facilities around four counties that include 55 employees. Dawson said only a handful of employees would have the authority to ask patrons to leave.
In three years, Dawson said she has had to work with law enforcement to get three different patrons to leave. She recalled one case at the Aiken County library, where an individual kept returning to the building in an intoxicated state. In Bamberg, two brothers committed a number of property crimes, including vandalism, to the facilities there.
“It’s not an everyday experience,” Dawson said. “By and large, the majority of folks who come in are coming into the library to use it for its intended purposes. Like any institution or agency whose doors are open to everyone, we have had our share of folks who are coming in and disrupting the library atmosphere.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.