I'm writing in regard to Jennie Smith's letter to the editor about her child's outburst at the library ("Special-needs child's ouster from library shows no accommodations," Dec. 6).
Smith stated in her letter that the child has "problems moderating his volume" or "unprovoked tantrums." Our staff estimates that the child had been screaming for 7-8 minutes. Patrons had complained about it downstairs even though the child was upstairs. Staff heard it in the office downstairs with the door closed. Patrons had also said they wanted to check their materials out and leave quickly because they couldn't stand the screaming any longer.
The father of the child said in subsequent phone conversations that the child has autism and is prone to outbursts. Outbursts are very loud screaming which can go on for a long time. Smith stated in her letter that she had "been asked to quiet (her) son by library staff, security guard and patrons alike." This shows that she was aware the screaming was creating a disturbance that prevented other patrons from using the library.
Her complaint is that because the child has special needs, we should've made special accommodations for her and asked if we could help. But at no time during this incident did she tell the staff that the child has special needs or was autistic.
Our security guard is very professional and was doing exactly what he was supposed to do by asking her to take the child to the lobby. We did not ask her to leave the library, just go to the lobby. She left the library on her own. And of course, we have a security guard to deal with many more situations than "to police the children's floor."
The father of the child also said in the phone conversation that it's a legal requirement that we have a special-needs policy. After checking with the Georgia Department of Public Library Services, we have found that there is no legal requirement for libraries to have such a policy. The requirement applies to schools and mental health care facilities. However, we feel that it is a good idea to have a policy regarding this issue, and we are in the process of developing a policy regarding special-needs children.
Ironically, we have also heard from several patrons since the new library opened that they want a quieter library and how noise levels disturb them. Some of them have written letters to the editor also. While we sympathize with the Smiths' plight in dealing with the difficulty of outbursts, we have to balance the needs of people wanting a more active environment with people wanting quiet. The library has the obligation to provide for the rights of as many library users as possible.
Columbia County Library
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