Monday, October 17, 2005

The Danger of Knowing Too Much About Your Patrons.

This was strange. I'd just come on shift. When my shift begins, Library X closes to the public. All non-university people must leave the building, and they can't come back in till 7:30am. We call these people community members. I saw one of our newer community members stroll in at a quarter after midnight. He was just part of a herd of students that arrived. I was busy at the desk, but tracked him to see if he went downstairs.

The student who was showing me his ID, noticed who I was tracking and said, "He's a registered sex offender."

I didn't know if the student was even talking about the same man I was keeping tabs on or if he was ragging on a friend. A girl who was with the student, looked at him in doubt.

"No, he really is. I saw him in the database." To the female student, he added, "He was the guy harassing Jamie."

Well, if the guy were a student, I wasn't going to worry about his sex offender status. In fact, if he showed me proper university ID, I think I would've expunged the sex offender info from my head because that's something I really don't want to know about a student I have to help and be courteous to, but it is something I want to know about a community member. I'd know to watch him in case he began to break library policy (and/or state law) and call UPD on him. Is it a double standard? Yes. Do I feel guilty? No. Well, to qualify that, I would assume a student's criminal record would be known by the university, and the possibility of whether or not he or she would pose a risk to the university community would be decided by the proper authorities. So a student, who was a registered sex offender, would assumedly be someone who has been deemed a non-risk. That's no guarantee but I'd trust in the university's judgment. A community member has had no such risk assessment.

But none of that really matters to this story. When I approached the individual and asked him if he were a student, he didn't prevaricate. He just said no. I informed him that the library closed to the public at midnight, and he would have to leave. He was easy-going about it. He asked if this was posted anywhere. I pointed out the ID requirement sign, the general hours sign on the outside doors, and that the website also had this information. He left without further comment, but the student's sex offender comment nagged at me. I knew there were databases, but I'd never looked at one. I googled my state and "sex offender database" and found the appropriate website. I put in the university's zip code and got a half page list of registered sex offenders. I clicked through the names. There are pictures of each offender and a list of their convictions.

I found our community member in the database. There was no mistaking him. He'd been convicted of taking indecent liberties with children in 1995 and forcible sodomy in 1998. Oh, I did not need to know this.

I know that we're supposed to forgive and forget, but I don't know if I can forget this with the heebie jeebies marching up and down my spine. Plus, I've mentioned this before, kids come here a lot. I don't want to assume the guy's a pedophile that poses a risk to these kids, but that's a concern.

I looked up the state code for these types of crimes. There are multiple scenarios that fit either crime that range in vileness. The indecent liberties charge is applied when the minor is under the age of 15 and encompasses genital fondling by either party, exposing minor to pornographic material, or someone 18 or over proposes sexual act with child (i.e. guy on internet tries to hook-up with 13 year-old for sex, but minor is actually an undercover cop). The other charge is pretty straight forward, though the fact that they call the victim a "complaining witness" is disturbing. They use the same wording when discussing rape. That terminology seems too facile to me. But forcible sodomy is basically what it says though it encompasses many other sexual acts that are not sexual intercourse. (I'm not going to list them because this blog probably pops up in enough perverted web searches as it is.)

Because the guy was convicted before 2000, he has no restrictions concerning contact with children, so I don't have any clear reason to say anything to the administration, and the wording for "sex offenses prohibiting proximity to children" only indicates primary, secondary, and high schools as prohibited places. It looks like in the eyes of the law that he is to be viewed as any other person who enters the library with no special restrictions upon him. I'm unsure if I should mention this at all to my boss or not. I showed the guy's database record to two co-workers when I discovered it because I just could not believe it, but I don't know if I should take it any further than that.

These are the places my state notifies when a registered sex offender moves into the neighborhood:
Child Day Care or Child-Minding Services, elementary, secondary, public, parochial and denominational schools, STATE REGULATED or LICENSED child care institution, child day center, child day program, foster home or group home of the registration of a sex offender residing within the same or contiguous zip code as the entitled organization or entity.

It's a shame public libraries aren't included in the list. I know it's common for libraries to not allow unattended children under a certain age to remain in the library, but libraries are still a place where children go, and there's supposedly an air of safety there that parents assume, but I've heard and witnessed several horror stories because the bottom line is public libraries are open to anyone so that means anyone can come in.

Heesh, this whole subject is freaking me out. I'm really beginning to wonder how that student knew the community member was a registered sex offender. His throwaway comment to his friend leads me to believe the community member has been, at the least, making a nuisance of himself to others that would lead them to know about his criminal convictions. Don't want to imagine what he might have been trying to do.

I suppose if the community member requests library assistance, I will answer his questions and help him out but no chit chat. I'm still not sure how widely known I should make this revelation. It would be of interest to my co-workers, but I don't know if it would be constructive knowledge.


Blogger CW said...

Yikes. I don't know what I'd do in this situation. :(

4:57 PM, October 18, 2005  
Blogger Spike said...

I don't want to assume the guy's a pedophile that poses a risk to these kids, but that's a concern.

Shit yeah. I'd rat him out, in writing, to your boss. Get it on record that he's in the sex offenders list and near kiddies. It's not like you're spreading rumours, you checked it out. Plus you'll get it off your chest.

On a lighter note, it would totally give me the heebies as well.

9:59 PM, October 18, 2005  
Blogger jellyhead said...

Wow. What a dilemma. I'd be freaked-out too.

Could you discuss the situation with a cop? - just for advice about what precautions could or should be taken?

5:12 AM, October 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creepy. I would suggest telling your boss - you told 2 co-workers, so it's bound to get around, and it seems better to tell your boss directly.

3:41 PM, October 20, 2005  
Blogger Cat. said...

Speaking as a public librarian (with a child), who works with lots of other parents, we all watch our state sex offenders list with hawk eyes. We know who's on it that's a local registrant, and we've had photos posted in the workroom of those people on the list who have cards with us.

Can't speak for all public libraries, of course. We also don't allow "unattended adults" in the children's room.

[On the other hand, one of my best friends could easily have been up for the sex offender list--for getting his 16-year-old girlfriend pregnant when he was 19.]

I agree with Anon--tell your boss before someone else does.

9:11 PM, October 20, 2005  
Blogger Vampire Librarian said...

Jellyhead, I would speak to an officer if I could do it casually, but UPD only stops by our library once in a blue moon.

Cat. I like the no unattended adults rule for the children's room, but your example of how someone could innocuously appear on the list is the reason I pause to blow the whistle on this guy. I don't know any details of his convictions. He hasn't done anything in the library to make us suspicious. I have let my boss know, whether my boss does anything, I don't know.

I know some of my co-workers occassionally read this blog so if they asked I'd show them the individual, but beyond that I guess I should keep quiet.

11:45 PM, October 20, 2005  
Anonymous Sin said...

It's a difficult call to make. I mean, I tend to follow the "give people the benefit of the doubt" approach unless categorically shown otherwise (maybe this was a one-off, "less serious" offence like flashing, I don't know) but there's certainly no clear-cut route to take. I'd suggest (in case it's of any help) that perhaps speaking to campus security or to your supervisor. I guess this may be a daft question, but do you get a lot of children in the university library? We almost never used to when I was in college a few years ago.

12:23 AM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger two bits said...

I would mention it to your boss just to keep them appraised of the situation, but don't make a bigger deal about it (yet). Yes, he has been convicted of a crime, so it justifies keeping an eye out for possible trouble. On the other side of the argument, he hasn't done anything against the law in your library or violated your library policies. We had a problem at my library (small library at a private university)with a student harrassing others, so we just kept an eye on the patron to document any problems or complaints. We coulnd't just ban someone because we thought they were trouble, we had to have a formal complaint from someone. (not just a hunch from the staff)

7:15 PM, October 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The protocol at our library is to notify the director when there are potential problem patrons and he would probably inform campus security that this patron is regularly on campus. Since we're a private institution, we have no obligation to allow the public access to our campus or library. We have banned public and alumni patrons in the past for unacceptable behavior. I guess, as the parent of kids who go to the library on their own, I'd err on the side of safety.

3:58 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger Vampire Librarian said...

Wow, thank you everyone for your comments. I was really unsure how to handle this. My boss knows. We won't 'watch' the patron, but it is something we will remember about him if he acts suspicious.

12:20 AM, October 26, 2005  
Blogger CogSci Librarian said...

I teach reference for Simmons GSLIS & am preparing a class on ethics. I'd
like to give my students some real-life sticky situations to think about,
and this is a great example AND would provoke great discussion. Would you
object if I used that story to lead part of a discussion on dealing with
ethical topics in a library? I would, of course, point them to your blog as
well, which should get them thinking even more.

10:18 AM, November 18, 2005  

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