The agenda for the July 24 County Library Commission meeting produced telling commentary on the sign of the times. County staff put "Safety and Security Planning for the Antioch Library" for discussion. Some 30 minutes was spent brainstorming solutions to Antioch's pressing problems.
Mind you, Antioch does not suffer alone. Systemwide there are issues, with the likes of towns like Clayton and San Ramon. Antioch's situation, though, is the most acute. After a notable 68 incidents last year we are running 40 through six months, including theft, flagrant profanity, physical threats, several local shootings that involved a facility lockdown, and a serious assault on a staff member outside the Prewett branch.
Most days remain calm, but there is no question that the number and degree of gravity of offenses has escalated. Thankfully, county staff has formed a task force and set up a 44-point action plan with measured implementation and progress review timelines.
The plan includes discussions with City Hall, the police and sheriff's departments, County Supervisor Federal Glover and Employment and Human Services. It incorporates cutting open hours from 35 to 28, but maintaining 4.7 full-time employees instead of implementing the original plan of reducing staff to 3.3 FTE.
Staff will evaluate possible realignment with Prewett branch scheduling and is even investigating possible new relocation sites. This is strictly exploratory and fact-finding.
Obviously, monitoring presence is crucial, but funds are scarce. As is, Antioch was not able to meet previous maintenance allocations; hence cuts. Nevertheless, the library is researching the costs of possible outside security as has cities like San Francisco and San Rafael. Other towns, like Sacramento, now even employ social workers.
Increasing the number of volunteers can help immeasurably and is an immediate priority. JFK mental health interns will be contacted, as well as exploring possible groups like churches, fraternal organizations, the Grey Panthers, Guardian Angels, Reach Program, and high school leadership clubs.
Of course, some low-hanging fruit will also be picked, like the use of mirrors in remote corners and not carrying around money trays during public hours, etc. We are open, so please contact the library with any ideas.
Granted, it is not only the library under attack. Two of our middle schools recently complained of losing control. The Holy Rosary Church rectory had back-to-back break-ins these last weeks. A priest actually tussled with an intruder who had a used a crow bar for entrance at 3:30 a.m.
Now the church has had no choice but to resort to light sensors, reinforced doors, double bolts and an alarm system.
The library is one of our last lines of defense championing civility, thoughtful refuge and peace and tranquillity. We cannot wave the white flag and kiss that citadel of culture and wisdom goodbye. Where else exists such a transformational crossroads of books and technology, such a vigorous public square embracing all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds?
Thankfully, where there is a will there is a way. Things run in cycles; New York was on a relentless downward spiral in the 1990s but dramatically resurged. Let's show our own can-do spirit and uphold the Antioch library, and all our libraries, as the nurturing places they are.
Great libraries, after all, make for great cities.
Walter Ruehlig is Antioch representative to the CC C Library Commission.