Problem Behavior Policy

A. Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive situations are defined as those behaviors exhibited by customers that interfere with other customers' rights to use the library.  It is the policy of the Harris County Public Library that staff members enforce library rules, policies and standards of behavior equitably among library customers.

Guidelines For Dealing with Problem Behavior

  1. 1. Assume that all customers have a legitimate reason for being in the library.
  2. 2. Be consistent in enforcing behavior standards.  Use behavior, not appearance or assumptions based on stereotypes, to determine if action should be taken.
  3. 3. Determine if a situation is life threatening.  If it is life threatening call 911 immediately. If there is a panic button in the library use it.  Do not attempt to intervene with the   customer.
  4. 4. Immediately notify the staff member in charge.  It is the responsibility of all staff members to help resolve problem situations.  Be prepared to assist other staff members,    if necessary.
  5. 5. When a disruptive situation arises listen carefully and determine the level of behavior. Stay calm and speak in a normal tone of voice.  Do not argue or touch the person.  If you believe this a potentially dangerous situation call 911.
    1. a. Anxiety.  This is where the person is verbally complaining.  You need to listen and be supportive and sympathetic.  Let the person vent.
    2. b. Belligerent.  This is still a verbal stage, but getting loud and abusive.  The person's movements are still controlled, but short and quick.  Now you  must set     limits of behavior--your credibility is on the line.
    3. c. Out of Control.  Now the person is inflicting personal injury or is attacking his surroundings.  He is taking his frustration out on things or people.  You could be next.  CALL 911.  Do not try to physically restrain the person.  Be sure to convey immediacy to the police--Be assertive.
    4. d. Calming.  Now the person is calming down.  The person is apologetic, sorrowful.  Be supportive and do not blame.
  6. 6. If problem situations with the same customer or customers arise continually, notify your supervisor.
  7. 7. Notify the Assistant County Librarian immediately.  Document the incident on the  Incident Report Form.  Send this form immediately to the Assistant County Librarian.
  8. 8. These are only general guidelines.  Circumstances may dictate a different course of action.
  9. 9. Any customer, as well as the personal belongings of any customer, emanating an odor (whether its cause is body odor, cologne, perfume, or anything else) constituting a nuisance to other customers may be asked to leave the library until the situation is corrected.

    If complaints are received from other customers or if a member of the staff makes a reasonable complaint, notify the person in charge. The person in charge should take action only if the situation is severe enough to be considered disruptive, that is, it interferes with other customers' rights to use the library. To be a nuisance the odor should be noxious and unreasonable, not simply annoying. Discretion needs to be used when applying this policy. There must be agreement about such a customer by more than one staff person, and it is expected that instances in which it would need to be applied are very rare. Ask the opinion of another coworker and get a consensus first.

    If the situation warrants it, the person in charge should approach the customer, as privately and politely as possible, identify themselves as a staff member and quietly inform them that there have been complaints about his or her odor. It's best to assume that they may not be aware of the problem. Ask them to leave the library until the problem is corrected. Say, "We have had a complaint about the smell coming from your clothing. I need to ask you to leave and come back another time after you have corrected the problem." If appropriate, offer the customer information on the local homeless shelter or another place where they can clean up. Do not direct them to the library’s restrooms.

    As with other situations in which a customer is asked to leave the premises, the police should be called only if the customer refuses to leave, becomes abusive, or is felt to be a danger.

B. Abusive Behavior

This includes but is not limited to fighting, yelling, loud voices, use of obscenities, rowdy behavior, verbal abuse, and other disorderly behaviors that interfere with other    customers.  Stay calm and do not argue.

  1. 1. Allow the customers to express their anger, but remember the customers do not have the right to be abusive nor is the staff obligated to tolerate or other customers tolerate abusive behavior.
  2. 2. Request that the individual or group change behavior using non-judgmental, factual statements.  Speak in an even tone of voice, make friendly eye contact, and avoid negative body language.  A warning should be issued at this time. Communicate the situation to other staff assigned to the area.  Inform the individual or group of library rules concerning these behaviors.

What You Might Say At This Time:

"Have you found what you need?"  "May I help you?"  "You may not be aware that the sound of your voices carries and that others who are working here have complained."  "Please stop running (or shoving, etc.)  You may hurt yourself or others."

  1. 3. If problem behavior continues a second notification or final warning will need to be given depending on the severity of the situation.

What You Might Say At this Time:

"You were asked to be quieter 15 minutes ago, and the noise level is still too high.  Perhaps you could break up into smaller groups or continue your conversations outside.  You need to be quieter or you will be asked to leave."  "If you don't stop running you will be asked to leave."

"You have been given opportunities to quiet down (stop running, etc.) and have not done so.  Now I have to ask you to leave the library.  If you follow library rules of behavior you are welcome to return tomorrow."

  1. 4. If a customer is verbally abusive the staff member should speak calmly to the customer saying, "I cannot assist you until you have calmed down."  If the customer continues to be abusive the staff member in charge should tell the customer to leave or should call police.
  2. 5. If children are in the library with a parent and the children become abusive, ask the parent to deal with the situation.  If the parent does not handle the situation, you may ask the parent and child to leave the library. 

C. Illegal Behavior

  1. 1. If illegal behavior such as selling drugs, sexual misconduct or property theft is observed in the library call 911 immediately.
  2. 2. If the illegal behavior is reported after the fact call the local non-emergency law enforcement telephone number.
  3. 3. Suspected child abuse or neglect must be reported to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), 599-5555.
  4. 4. If a customer becomes physically abusive call 911.
  5. 5. Immediately notify the Assistant County Librarian.  Fill out an Incident Report Form and forward to the Assistant County Librarian.

D. Vandalism

  1. 1. Vandalism is a Class C misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code.  Vandalism is an offense against property under TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. 28.04 (Vernon 1994), which reads as follows:
    1. a. A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, he recklessly damages or destroys property of the owner.
    2. b. An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
  2. 2. If vandalism is the act of a minor, the minor is liable for damages.  In addition, parents may also be held liable for money damages.  TEX. FAM. CODE Ann 33.01 (Vernon 1986) reads as follows:

A parent or other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child is liable for any property damage proximately caused by:

  1. a. the negligent conduct of the child if the conduct is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent or other person to exercise that duty;


  1. b. the willful and malicious conduct of a child who is at least 12 years of  age but under 18 years of age
Under TEX. FAM. CODE Ann.  33.02 (Vernon 1986), recovery from a parent for damaged caused by the willful and malicious conduct of a child is limited to actual damages, not to exceed $15,000 per act, plus court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.
  1. 3. If someone is caught committing an act of vandalism the law enforcement authorities may be called.
  2. 4. Extensive damage must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
  3. 5. Immediately notify the Assistant County Librarian.  Complete an Incident Report Form and forward to the Assistant County Librarian.
  4. 6. Notify city authorities if appropriate.

E. Unattended Children

  1. 1. Children have the same rights as adults to be in the library.  They must follow library rules of behavior.  If appropriate the parent or guardian may be called.  If a child's behavior necessitates them leaving the library, and this leaving could pose a risk to the child, the local law enforcement agency may be called as well as the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), 599-5555.
  2. 2. Suspected child abuse or neglect must be reported to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), 599-5555.
  3. 3. In order to alleviate the problem of unattended children at closing time the following procedures may be used.
    1. a. Before closing inform children of the time of closing and ask them if they need to make arrangements for transportation.
    2. b. If necessary repeat this procedure.
    3. c. Bookmarks and flyers may be requested to inform parents of this problem.  See examples.
    4. d. Write a press release.  See example.
  4. 4. If a child is left unattended after hours the following procedures must be used if the child is at risk of being left unattended.
    1. a. Verify if someone is coming to pick up the child.
    2. b. Staff members must remain with a child until someone arrives to pick up the child.
      1. 1. Staff schedules may be need to be adjusted for this situation.
      2. 2. If possible two staff members should stay with the child.
    3. 5. If no one comes to pick up the child call the local law enforcement agency. Notify the Assistant County Librarian.  Complete an Incident Report Form and forward to the Assistant County Librarian.
    4. 6. Parents arriving late should be given a letter explaining library policies and hours.  See example.

F. Firearms and Other Deadly Weapons on Premises

On December 19, 1995 the Harris County Commissioners Court passed the following concerning firearms or other deadly weapons on county premises:

  1. 1. It shall be unlawful for any person to carry a firearm or deadly weapon within or on any Premises except those persons who are peace officers or security guards.
  2. 2. Notice of this prohibition against firearms and other deadly weapons will be posted on all    Premises and any violation of this prohibition shall be punished as provided by state law/or federal law, including Section 30.05 of the Texas Penal Code[Criminal Trespass].
  3. 3. This section is expressly made cumulative of any other county rules and regulations relating to the possession of weapons by County or District officials or employees.