Nashville Public LibraryI went to the downtown library this weekend to do some historical research in the Nashville room and, Nashville, what the fuck? This is a new building. It smells. The elevator I was in smelled worse and pieces of the trim in the elevator were broken off. The women’s bathroom on the third floor had three out-of-order toilets, two toilets that looked like they were going to have to be declared out of order, a sock under the sinks and a pile of dirty laundry on the sinks. The “renovation” of the children’s section seems almost wholly designed to prevent harmful weirdos from wandering into the area and hanging out.

I wanted to go into the reading room on the third floor, but the men darting in and out of the doorways, scrutinizing everyone who came up there made me feel like it wasn’t safe for a woman alone to go to the reading room.

There’s not a good way to talk about this without sounding like you’re being mean to homeless people, but not talking about it means that we have this situation where certain parts of the downtown library are shut off and safe and other parts are not and we don’t talk about it at all. This is a library. A library. If there is any place in town where you should not be afraid to walk into a room, this is it.

There’s a larger, systemic problem. A lot of people in our community don’t have safe places to be all day. The library is safer than being out on the streets and, when it's a thousand degrees outside, cooler. We are massively failing and the offshoot of that massive failure is that the library is one of the few havens available to people. But the library wasn’t designed to function as a locker room/laundromat. It’s not holding up to that heavy use for which it wasn’t designed.

But here’s also the specific problem: when you’re using the library as your locker room/laundromat/daytime hangout, it interferes with my ability to use the library as a place to find information. That sucks. I should be able to use the library my tax dollars support without being grossed out by the smell or the shape of the facilities and without being frightened by the people who seem to have staked out parts of the public building as theirs and are then guarding it.

I’m a liberal softy. I’d be perfectly happy if the city put my tax dollars toward building a big open, temperature controlled place where people could wash themselves and their clothes and hang out and be relatively safe. But make it a building designed for that, that can withstand the wear and tear of that kind of use. The library is not it.

It seems like this shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say, but if your use of the library makes it so other people can’t use the library, you shouldn’t get to use the library.

4 p.m.: The library sent the following response this afternoon.

"Nearly 2,500 people come to the Main Library every day. They represent all ages, life stories, and sections of our community. Accessibility and openness help make our library strong, a vibrant community institution. It also means we must all share our library space with respect and consideration.

We use NPL's patron code of conduct to set the tone for this space sharing. This code addresses a range of components, including noise, public restroom use, personal property, and more. You can find it on our website: https://library.nashville.org/about/policies/rules-conduct or request a copy at any of our locations.

Meanwhile, our security and custodial staff help keep our facilities as safe and clean as possible every day. For example, NPL cleans and refreshes public restrooms and deodorizes heavy-traffic areas at the Main Library throughout the day.  We also work one-on-one with patrons to enforce the code of conduct.

Nashville Public Library appreciates all our patrons and supporters, and we take the community's feedback seriously. We're committed to thoughtful, responsible stewardship of the library facilities and resources that belong to the library - and to the people of this city."

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