Iowa City Public Library approves sleeping ban

BY LAYLA PENA | JANUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City Public Library Board of Trustees passed a ban on sleeping in the library on Thursday night — a policy that has been discussed for quite some time.

Library Director Susan Craig said the decision to ban sleeping in the library was prompted by an increase in the number of patrons’ complaints in the last year.

“Sleeping in the library is a perennial issue, but the staff thought it was appropriate to bring it back to the board after receiving more complaints than we have had in quite some time,” she said.

Those who complain about people sleeping in the library did so because they found the behavior disruptive, she said. Those who snore loudly or sleep across several seats were said to be especially disruptive.

“People sleeping for extended periods of time has a negative effect on other people’s use of the library,” Craig said. “We want to be welcome and open for everyone who uses the library and we’re concerned that that’s not the case when sleeping is allowed.”

The common perception is that the individuals who are using the facility as a place to nap are homeless; however, Craig said, that is a misconception. She said there is not a specific demographic of library visitors who sleep on the premises and that a wide range of people engages in this behavior. The ban will be enforced on everyone, she said.

Other large public libraries in the state have enforced similar bans for many years.

The Des Moines Public Library implemented a no-sleeping policy in 2002. The library’s staff members enforce the ban by waking people who are sleeping to remind them of the policy.

While the issue of whether sleeping in the library negatively affects the visits of other patrons is problematic for large libraries, other libraries in the area do not experience similar problems.

Alison Ames Galstad, the director of the Coralville Public Library, said she thinks that library does not have similar issues is because of it is much smaller.

Likewise, Jennie Garner, the assistant director of the North Liberty Public Library, said the fewer patrons the library has compared with larger cities is more than likely why it does not have an overwhelming problem with disruptive sleepers.

“Staff would simply approach someone who is sleeping and remind them that it is not allowed,” Craig said. “If they have to go back to repeatedly remind someone, then that person would be asked to leave for day.”

While the overwhelming majority of the board passed the policy change, other members of the community are not as supportive of the ban.

Steve Newman, a longtime Iowa City resident, was strongly opposed to the ban and expressed his concern during the board’s meeting Thursday night.

In a statement he prepared for the meeting, Newman said, if passed, this policy would, “reflect negatively on the leadership of the library, and its public image will be tarnished.”

Newman went on to describe the policy as, “reclusive, exclusive, fascist, and uncaring.”

Despite Newman and other community members’ pleas against the sleeping ban, the policy passed with a 7-1 vote by the board.

The manner in which the new policy will be enforced will be determined by library staff in the days to come. At that point, library staff will also discuss when to implement the sleep ban. Craig said the policy would not be implemented until at least the end of next week.

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