No Cameras for Lebanon Libraries

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lebanon — Library officials say Lebanon’s two public libraries will forgo installing security cameras after a committee questioned the technology’s ability to prevent crime.

The committee, made up of Lebanon library staff and library trustees, recently determined that cameras are not “effective at reducing incidents of violent crimes,” municipal Library Director Sean Fleming said on Tuesday. The devices, which police had suggested the library consider, also wouldn’t have prevented an alleged sexual assault this summer at the Kilton Public Library, he said.

“We also want the library to be a welcoming place and weren’t really sure if that would be in line with having security cameras,” Fleming said.

The committee was largely formed in response to the August incident at Kilton Public Library, according to Fleming.

That’s when a 19-year-old White River Junction man was charged with sexually assaulting a girl inside the library’s bathroom. Tyler M. Benson has pleaded not guilty to several felony charges stemming from the alleged assault.

The incident was reported by a custodian at the library who had earlier kicked out several children, Fleming said. But some came back, he said, prompting the custodian to call police.

Although the library’s staff acted appropriately, Fleming said, the incident led officials to discuss how best to address public safety. Members of the Lebanon Police Department also brought up the idea of installing cameras, he said.

Library trustee Laura Barrett said she volunteered for the committee this fall because she is interested in the best way to balance “patron privacy with all the different issues that come up.”

Librarians have a duty to protect both the privacy and confidentiality of patrons, according to the American Library Association, which argues libraries should not only keep users’ information confidential but also limit how much is collected.

Barrett said those concerns were discussed in meetings, but committee members also were swayed to forgo cameras by Chuck McAndrew, a Lebanon information technology librarian who studied the use of cameras while completing his master’s degree.

He found that cameras have a minimal impact on preventing violent crime, according to Barrett. And although cameras could help solve thefts, she said, the library sees few reported cases every year.

“The library has not really experienced that much crime at all,” Barrett said. “It just doesn’t justify the cost of the cameras.”

Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello agreed with that assessment on Tuesday, saying research indicates cameras are “not a crime prevention tool.”

But he also said cameras could aid law enforcement once a crime, such as theft, had been committed.

“I look at cameras in any location or application as a balance between privacy, comfort and liability,” Mello said.

In the libraries’ case, staffers already do a good job of monitoring for the relativity few problems that occur, he said. A security system would be a costly endeavor, according to Mello.

But Lebanon’s decision to not install cameras makes it an outlier among libraries today, said Rubi Simon, director of the Howe Library in Hanover.

“I’ve been working in libraries for 20 years now, and I think just about every library I’ve worked at has had cameras,” Simon said.

Simon said cameras both inside and outside the Howe were installed about two years ago. But librarians were careful to point them away from areas that could invade users’ privacy, such as the circulation desk.

“Our obligation is to make sure we protect patron records,” Simon said, adding the library also wants patrons to feel safe when visiting.

The cameras in the Hanover library have only been used once or twice by law enforcement, she said, recalling that they came in handy after someone reported a laptop was stolen. Simon said she also feels they can act as a deterrent.

“I think it’s pretty much a norm now if the library is a municipal building,” she said of the cameras.

In Lebanon, library officials have taken other steps to increase security after the alleged assault, Fleming said.

“I walk around the building two or three times a day, just go right around the perimeter of the inside,” he said, adding that staffers have been asked to make the same checks.

The bathroom inside the children’s room in Kilton also is locked when no employees are present, he said.

Library trustees Chairman Francis Oscadal said he’s happy with the committee’s conclusion, and agrees that cameras likely wouldn’t deter a crime from happening within a Lebanon library.

Signs warning of video surveillance probably wouldn’t be read by any would-be criminal, he said, adding there still might be a place for cameras outside the libraries.

“I think there might be some value in having these things, but I don’t feel too strongly one way or the other,” Oscadal said. “The library is a relatively safe place.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.