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FOCUS | Louisville library workers concerned about fights, guest behavior

"It's not just about the number, it's about the seriousness," the president of the library workers union said.

Travis Breese

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Published: 9:25 PM EST January 19, 2023
Updated: 10:03 PM EST January 19, 2023

The images that come to mind for most people when you think "public library" are not scary.

"I've never come across anybody that's unruly," Michelle Smith said, who visits the Shawnee branch of the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) multiple times per month.

People who work at the library feel a bit differently.

"A lot of them (days at work) are fine. There just are a lot of incidents. So, you have to be ready," Katherine Skaggs said, who has been a librarian at the Shawnee branch since 2019.

Skaggs is the president of the library workers' union, AFSCME Local 3425.

Credit: Travis Breese/WHAS-TV
Katherine Skaggs, president of AFSCME Local 3425

When Skaggs says "incidents," she is referring to fights between guests, patrons making unwelcomed advances towards staff members, drug use and verbal threats.

Throughout all 17 LFPL branches in 2022, there were 533 incident reports filed with library administrators. Many of them were something small like a patron slipping on ice, or someone pulling the fire alarm. 

But many were also traumatizing for staff.

One of the most noteworthy events was a large fight between a group of teenagers and a security guard on Oct. 10.

According to an incident report FOCUS obtained through an open records request, a group of five teenagers was being disruptive and staff asked them to leave around 5:50 p.m. that day.

Credit: Travis Breese/WHAS-TV
The graphic above shows the types of incident reports at the Louisville Free Public Library from 2022.

The teens left around the same time the security guard went on break, and the two groups got in another verbal argument off-property.

When the security guard returned from break, she went into the library manager's office to write an incident report. At the same time, a group of 20 teenagers entered the library and staff asked them to leave. They refused.

When the guard walked out of the manager's office, a large fight ensued. The guard was hospitalized with a badly swollen eye. She told FOCUS her dentures were also destroyed.

"I didn't know what to do," the guard said. She asked to stay anonymous. "I always have to look over my shoulder now...I'm still frightened, I'm still traumatized." 

Morgan Security Company, who was providing security services at the time, said the guard was only defending herself and she kept her job.

Credit: Travis Breese/WHAS-TV
Entrance to the Shawnee Library branch.

That was one of five incidents within a 12-day period FOCUS obtained reports on.

At the Western branch on Sept. 28, a patron was caught touching themselves in the lower level, directly outside of the staff break area.

On Sept. 29 at the Newburg branch, a patron was reported asking a staff member for their number and to hang out after work, and then following that staff member home in his car. Two staff members "lost him" in a Target parking lot.

On Oct. 6 at the Shawnee branch, a man was reported rubbing up against the backside of one staff member and another guest.

“It’s difficult. And it’s especially difficult knowing, ‘What are we doing?’ Firing incidents reports into a void? Like, is this being dealt with?” Skaggs said.

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