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May 06, 2007

Comments

I was in the library yesterday and a rather large and overweight man came in with his notebook and sat down in an area ajacent to the area I was situated in. This person obviously had some serious lung congestion and his cough was not a dry hacking but a conjested fluid type. His cough could be heard throughout the upper floor of the library. It was obvious to me that the man was sick. He was here for about 4 hours and never stopped coughing for the entire time. It became so anoying that I got up to see if he looked receptive to a distant few words. I would have liked to ask the man if he had seen a doctor about his illness. If he said no I would have followed that question with "do you know what the nature of your illness is." if he answered no to that I would have asked "do you have a home in town or are you a homeless person. If he did have a home and was just home sick from work and decided to come to the library to get on line wireless, I would have told him that he had no right to be here and that his behavior displayed a lack of concern for the others in the community and that he would have to leave the library and go to a rehabilitaion facility after his illness to learn how to be a responsible citizen.

I agree that with Mary that this situation is beyond Kreimer -- but there is a strong thread throughout that opinion that libraries should be used for the maximum use possible.

Therefore, it could be argued that if a patron through a communicable disease (especially an easily transmittable one within a limited timeframe, like chickenpox) would restrict the use of the library by others -- or could impact the management of the library, the library could, for the duration of transmission, prevent the patron from using the library. Especially if the argument is built on Neinast's public health/shoe restriction.

But it is a difficult position to be in and I would think that the policy or the policy's application would need to be narrowly tailored to deal with seriousness of the disease, transmitability, and time frame.

I've never looked into this before, but it seems to me way beyond a Kreimer-style behavior issue. The Neinast case may be helpful, though, since the court upheld the library's reasonable health and safety rule requiring shoes.

I checked the National Conference of State Legislatures for a starting point on communicable disease laws. I found this:

http://www.ncsl.org/programs/press/2002/snapshot.htm#quarantine" which discusses state quarantine authority.

There might possibly be something helpful in the site's 2006 report on preparing for the pandemic at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/pubs/slmag/2006/06SLApr06_Pandemic.htm

Mary Beth asks where we should draw the line. It is a reasonable question. I draw the at being exposed to diseases that could be lethal or could cause serious bodily injury to either myself or my staff. A normal flu or cold does neither of those things to someone with a healthy immune system - though a bird flu pandemic might.

I used to work for St. John's Ambulance and was comfortable exposing myself to disease there - I am not willing to do so in a library. I am not a doctor or health professional any longer and I should not have to die or become seriously ill due to the ignorant actions of a parent or other person.

I'm thinking about this situation in light of Kreimer (homeless in library case). Most libraries have codes of conduct, so a library could argue that the communicable disease could be included in a policy that said something like "Patrons cannot engage in any actions that consciously or unconsciously violate or restrict the rights of others to use the library."

Quoting Kreimer:

""Patrons shall respect the rights of other patrons and shall not harass or annoy others through noisy or boisterous activities, by staring at another person with the intent to annoy that person, by following another person about the building with the intent to annoy that person, by playing audio equipment so that others can hear it, by singing or talking loudly to others or in monologues, or by behaving in a manner which reasonably can be expected to disturb other patrons."

This rule similarly prohibits behavior that tends to or is disruptive in a library setting. Prohibiting disruptive behavior is perhaps the clearest and most direct way to achieve maximum Library use. Accordingly, we find that this rule is fundamentally reasonable and we reject the attack on it."

"we reiterate, as the Library correctly asserts, that it has a significant interest in ensuring that “all patrons of the [Library] [can] use its facilities to the maximum extent possible during its regularly scheduled hours.”"

For additional reading,
Neinast v. Board of Trustees of Columbus Metropolitan Library, 346 F.3d 585 (6th Circuit 2003) (the requirement for shoes in library for public health case)Armstrong v. District of Columbia Public Library
154 F.Supp.2d 67 (District of District of Columbia 2001).

I agree that it is a complicated issue -- especially by the fact that many people do not announce their contagious state!

Quite an interesting discussion - is there a law librarian out there reading this who could point us to relevant laws or cases?

I see your point, Mary. But in both of these cases, the patrons with the communicable diseases volunteered that information. I am not sure about the law, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to have a policy that covers this instance. Perhaps the policy should specifically mentions types of maladies (like Chicken Pox or TB, as opposed to the flu) that would be covered. But anyone with respect and concern for their neighbors and the rest of the public would not go to a public place like the library if they had any of those types of illnesses.

While I sympathize with both the original post story and the commenter above, I am a bit concerned about the concept of asking someone to leave due to a communicable disease. Where do we draw the line?

A few years ago at my public library, the city had an outbreak of the flu that ran through the town like wildfire. On any given day, most of the folks using the public access computers sounded like they were going to cough up a lung. Our answer was to use copious amounts of Lysol spray, disinfectant wipes, and have bottles of hand disinfectant at the circulation desk for the staff.

Certainly, diseases like tuberculosis would be a more serious issue - but as I said before, where do you draw the line? And what if I simply come in and my communicable disease isn't readily apparent? Do we only oust the sneezers and coughers?

I don't have any actual case law to report - just a story:

About six years ago at my former place of work in south Texas, a mother a several children came in during a school day. The children's librarian and I were puzzled and went to see why they were there. The children proudly announced that they didn't have to be at school because they had chicken pox!

I told all staff who had not had chicken pox to leave the floor immediately (about 4 left) and the children's librarian told the children and their mother to leave. The mother protested, but I backed my staff member up (I was the assistant director at the time). They left but she complained to City Hall that she would sue. The city attorney told her that if any of the staff got sick, she was the one who would be sued - for endangering public officials.

We never heard from her again and we wrote explicit language into our patron behavior policy about contagious disease. In the rest of my time there, we used it once to deal with a man who came in coughing and spitting and claiming to have TB. He made no argument when asked to leave.

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