Drunk, abusive customers prompt security to increase at Calgary's Nicholls Family library

Calgary's first library branch located in a C-Train station is proving a security challenge, as staff and management try to reduce the number of incidents at the Westbrook LRT station branch.

City's first library branch located in a C-Train station is proving a security challenge

A man is escorted out of the Nicholls Family library on Aug. 31. The Calgary Public Library says it will boost security at the branch starting today from 24 hours per week to 32. (Elizabeth Snaddon/CBC )

Calgary's first library branch in a C-Train station is proving a security challenge, as staff and management try to reduce the number of incidents at the Westbrook LRT station branch. 

When the Nicholls Family Library opened in the Westbrook LRT station 17 months ago, it was hailed as the way of the future — a new partnership between the Calgary Public Library and Calgary Transit.  

Bill Ptacek, CEO of the Calgary Public Library, believes he is making progress trying to reduce inappropriate behaviour in city branches, including one of the city's newest branches in the Westbrook LRT station. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Unfortunately, the city's first library branch inside a commuter train station is sometimes attracting the wrong kind of customers. 

"You're going to have that number of people who are at the fringes of the community, and we have to become more adept at working, managing those folks," said Bill Ptacek, the CEO of the Calgary Public Library.

Rh'ena Oake is the president of the union that respresents 800 librarians in Calgary and Cochrane. She says employees are concerned about abusive behaviour by some patrons at the Nicholls Family library. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Since the branch opened in April 2016, there has been an increase in the number of incidents, which include intoxicated patrons, alcohol and drug use and abusive behaviour toward library staff. 

"We've had concerns because we've heard from our staff and we've seen what's happening," said Ptacek. 

Security staffing levels started at 16 hours per week, but then jumped to 24 hours per week. Starting today, the number will be increased again, this time to 32 hours per week. That means a uniformed, private guard will be onsite for almost half the time the branch is open. 

Security at the city's only library branch located inside a C-Train station will be boosted by eight hours per week starting today. (Mike Symington/CBC )

"We've taken a number of steps to try and make sure that the environment is positive, that it's welcoming to everybody. But if people don't act in a lawful and civil way, then we have effective ways of dealing with that and making sure those people are not welcome back into the library," said Ptacek.  

The Calgary Public Library spent $641,640 on security in 2016. They've budgeted $692,133 this year.

"Rather than sit back and let things happen, we decided that we're going to be more proactive," said Ptacek. 

New branch, new challenges 

The head of the union that represents librarians in Calgary is pleased with the beefed-up security plan and hopes it will help solve the problems at the Nicholls Family branch. 

"I would say our members have a reasonable level of concern," said Rh'ena Oake, president of CUPE Local 1169.  

Oake says all libraries are open to everyone, but the Nicholls Family branch can sometimes attract "the underbelly of society" because it's located inside an LRT station.

"You're going to get a mix of individuals, you're going to get the legitimate patrons of the library who find it extremely convenient, but you're also going to get disgruntled individuals," said Oake. 

Oake says the Nicholls Family branch replaced the Shaganappi location, which had its own set of problems. The biggest difference, she says, is the verbal abuse staff are facing.

"It's unfortunate that some individuals feel that public service workers are an easy target for verbal assault," said Oake.

She says there is zero tolerance toward abusive behaviour, and people who violate the library's code of conduct can be banned from entering any branch in the city. 

Location, location, location

Oake says she supports the location of the branch, which she describes as being extremely convenient for commuters and people in the Westbrook area. 

But the CEO isn't so sure. Bill Ptacek believes libraries can work well with transit-oriented development but says you may not see the Westbrook model duplicated.

"Does the library need to be right at the door or the entrance to transit? I'm not sure that's the case," he said. 

As for the beefed-up security presence, the union says it's been told the situation will be monitored on a daily basis and may again have to be adjusted.

"A determination will be made on whether an increase in security has addressed the issue or if, in fact, it needs to be increased even more than the 32 hours a week," said Oake.