SAN JOSE’S LIBRARIES have boosted security in an effort to increase safety and reduce disruptive behavior that plagued the branches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The San Jose Public Library system now employs 12 security guards, a complete turnaround from the one guard during the pandemic. Prior to COVID, two full-time security guards and one part-time guard roamed the library system’s 25 branches. Residents said the increase helps, and library spokesperson Elizabeth Castaneda said the libraries are better equipped to maintain the facilities as comfortable, safe spaces.

Castaneda said six full-time security guards support all 25 locations and an additional six contracted guards provide help for certain libraries. She said the number of library incidents the guards respond to have not surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

“Safety and security at the library remain one of our highest priorities,” Castaneda told San José Spotlight. “We continue to track and assess our security program and make as many investments as possible.”

San Jose State University student Taryn Dailey said she generally feels safe at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library where she goes in between classes to study or meet friends. But she said there have been incidents that worry her, including a situation a few months ago where an individual was found with a weapon in one of the bathrooms.

“Safety and security at the library remain one of our highest priorities. We continue to track and assess our security program and make as many investments as possible.

Elizabeth Castaneda, San Jose Public Library spokesperson

“I was like, ‘Why is this happening here?’” Dailey, 18, told San José Spotlight. “Sometimes there’s just situations where there’s not going to be somebody around to protect you, so maybe have more people that can.”

Safety in libraries was a yearslong concern among the system’s employees during the pandemic. Hundreds signed a petition in 2021 as library staff reported having to break up fights, in addition to regular responsibilities. Employees also said they experienced numerous instances of verbal assault and cases where fellow co-workers had to get restraining orders against problematic patrons. Staffing levels took a hit and a hiring freeze was also implemented during the pandemic. And while libraries got millions in state funding for infrastructure projects last year, not all branches are getting the same level of attention.

The San Jose Public Library system served more than 4 million annual visitors prior to the pandemic. It’s one of the busiest library systems nationwide with an annual checkout rate of nearly 14 million items, according to its website.

San Jose resident and private tutor Jenny Van said she works out of libraries most days of the week, including the Tully Community, Seven Trees and Educational Park library branches. Van said she doesn’t have any complaints about safety, but has occasionally heard others shouting in the library bathrooms or outside. While she’s felt uncomfortable at times, she knows the Tully location has a security guard and she’ll still meet students for tutoring sessions there, she added.

“With me, if I see something, I’ll just avoid that area,” Van, 55, said in Vietnamese. “I don’t really want to speak to (any library staff) to push patrons out of the library.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.