The board of directors of the Hartford Public Library Thursday acknowledged that there have been safety and security issues in its newly renovated main branch and pledged to make the library a safer, more welcoming place for customers and employees.
"The board, understanding and appreciating concerns raised by the community, will convene a task force to examine and address issues of safety and security and Internet content at the Hartford Public Library," said board President Geraldine Sullivan, reading from a group statement.
Thursday's statement, issued at a full board meeting, was the first since a Courant investigation published in May detailed security and public safety problems in the library, which recently completed a $42 million renovation.
Reading from the statement, Sullivan said the board was working in partnership with Chief Librarian Louise Blalock and library staff to immediately implement procedures and policies that will help address concerns.
Such actions include a closer partnership with the Hartford Police Department, a zero-tolerance policy toward inappropriate behavior, clear communication to customers of what is considered appropriate behavior, as well as additional staff training and policy support to address dealing with security concerns at the library," Sullivan said.
Through interviews with staff members and internal reports obtained by The Courant, the investigation revealed that there have been problems with patrons drinking and using drugs in restrooms. Staff members also reported threats by customers and incidents of sexual activity in the library on several occasions and said theft of CDs and DVDs was common, especially because there is no theft detection system in place. The investigation also detailed the viewing of pornographic materials, including child pornography, by customers.
Sullivan said "the library has installed filters in compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act to block certain pornography and other questionable material and is committed to looking at more ways to insure a level of comfort for library users."
For Angel Morales, a city resident who identified himself to the board as an activist, Thursday's statement was far too little, too late.
Morales told the board that he had called Blalock often to complain about the viewing of child pornography, but his concerns were ignored.
"I have pictures of people viewing pornography, which I'm about to present to federal authorities," Morales said. "I'm disappointed it took this long for Louise to address these issues."
Following the board meeting, Blalock said she always tries to respond to concerns that are expressed or forwarded to her, but she didn't recall those by Morales.
Blalock also said she fully supported the board's statement, including the zero-tolerance policy, even though it contradicts earlier statements.
In a May 14 Courant article about issues at the library, Blalock said she decided not to set rules of behavior or install security cameras or theft detection devices and instead emphasized a free and open environment.
"The library has always had a zero-tolerance policy," she said. "Over time, some things [postings] have moved. We are re-posting that policy everywhere throughout the library system."
The board released details of the plan for the formation of the security task force. The 14-member panel, made up of people within and outside of the library system, would be charged with determining specific security recommendations relating to staff and customer safety, entrance and exit controls, Web access filtering and blocking the viewing of pornographic sites, and safeguarding the library's materials. The task force would begin its work in July and submit a report in 60 days.
"This is not a joke. This has to be done," said board member William Large.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at