Sex offenders must ask permission to use libraries

BY KATIE SIMS | JULY 29, 2009 7:15 AM

While public libraries throughout the state have banned certain sex offenders from entering their facilities, UI Libraries officials say they have no plans to keep anyone from using their free services.

The UI Libraries is exempt from a recently adopted state standard.

A state law went into effect July 1 preventing sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors from entering a public library without the permission of a library administrator.

The Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., passed a policy July 23 that is even stricter; such criminals must appeal to the Board of Trustees for access.

“I can’t give them permission to use the library; I can only tell them their other options,” said Susan Craig, the Public Library director.

Those options include obtaining a library card over the phone and checking out books through a designated representative.

Craig said she believes a kidnapping and assault case at the Des Moines Public Library in 2005 helped the new law pass.

“I think the publicity that this event drew got people looking at the law, saying, ‘We need to make some changes here,’ ” she said.

Lindsay Whitson, a recent UI graduate who often studied at the UI Main Library this summer, said she noticed some users stood out — and not in a positive way — from the college crowd.

“There were people there who obviously weren’t students,” she said.

The Main Library gives free permits to any Iowa resident with a driver’s license to check out books and use library technology. Both Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa charge nonstudents to use their facilities.

And there is no background check for people obtaining permits. However, Main Library officials said they do notify law enforcement for problems such as theft, vandalism, or illegal pornography downloads.

“The nature of a library is to be open and not judge people at what they check out or look at,” said Amy Paulus, the head of Access Services at the Main library.

But patrons at the UI library have committed crimes. A man was charged in April for using a guest pass to upload and access child pornography, for example.

While the state law will prevent certain offenders from entering libraries, Craig said, even strict rules may not prevent problems similar to what happened in Des Moines from occurring.

“We’re on alert, and if we see suspicious people, we will take action” like notifying law enforcement, she said.

Ben Stone, the executive director of the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group is eager to see how libraries respond to the challenge.

“[We] hope the very noble purpose of our libraries is not undermined unjustifiably,” he said. “It’s going to take libraries time to figure out what’s going to work and what isn’t.”

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