Sex Offender Policy

Because of the other story about happenings at the Urbandale, Iowa library I took a look at their website. On their policy page there is a "Sex Offender Policy" listed.

Excerpt from policy: In accordance with Chapter 692A of Subtitle 1 of Title 16 of the Code of Iowa, sex offenders
convicted of sex offenses against minors are prohibited from being on library property or loitering
within 300 feet of library property without written permission of the Library Director.

I am curious how other libraries and states are dealing with the issue of sex offenders. What policy does your library have? Do you agree with the policy? Do you think it is effective? Is a state law or city ordinance the impetus for your policy?


According to the Oxford American Dictionary of Current English, "public" is defined as:

"1. of or concerning the people as a whole (a public holiday; the public interest). 2. open to or shared by all the people (public library; public meeting). 3. done or existing openly (made his views public; a public protest). 4a (of a service, funds, etc.) provided by or concerning local or central government (public money; public records; public expenditure). b (of a person) in government (had a distinguished public career). 5 well-known; famous (a public examination)."

With this in mind, is the Urbandale Public Library a public library? Well, they certainly are a library and they certainly are in Urbandale. Public? Not so much.

What do you think?

Steve Kemple

"convicted of sex offenses against minors" -- please read that again before you throw your definition of "public" around.

Public includes undesirables of all kinds, not just "good people" or "pedophiles". Let's not turn this into a debacle of a discussion by accusing people of supporting pedophiles, thereby insinuating that people are okay with what pedophiles do.

What the other commenter was saying is how can it be a public library if it bars people from access? If libraries are about access to information, are pedophiles barred from that information? Not just pedophiles in general, but those "convicted of sex offenses against minors"--who presumably have served their time and completed their legal obligations for that conviction and are expected to become self-supporting members of society by getting a job and staying out of trouble.

Let's say this guy, John Doe, has served his time, and does all his legal obligations of registering his address and is in compliance with the law in that regard. He wants to make an honest living, to pay his rent and such. He goes to the unemployment office and is told he has to do his job applications online, but the unemployment office has no public access computers and he doesn't have income to support an internet connection at home. To work at my local grocery store for instance, you have to apply online--they won't accept paper applications. So, what is this guy to do if he has no access to the internet and is barred from the public library? According to the policy mentioned, at least the guy has recourse to contact the library director to get permission, so he's not totally denied the option to the access--at least not outright. It is still "solely discretionary" on the library director's part. And there is an appeals process in place.

I found this interesting: Persons excluded from library property under this law will not be served by the library’s homebound delivery service. In addition, they will not be allowed access to any library services that
are provided only on the premises, such as the use of public computers.

Why exclude them from the homebound service? The law is in effect making them homebound/barring access to the physical library. I'm assuming it's legalities/safety of staff. And there is some issue that they won't have full use of the library's collection (reference materials that don't circulate, databases that don't offer remote access).

Where I live, there is no law barring sex-offenders from the library. There is no policy barring sex-offenders specifically. As to whether I a parent, it would only make me feel marginally safer, at best. There is always those who haven't been convicted, those who haven't registered and thus they are the "unknown evils". As a librarian, it wouldn't make a difference. It would probably make more work trying to figure out how we're supposed to enforce the law, how proactive are we supposed to be (like are we expected to look up every patron's name in the registry to see if they are offenders? Is that legal/ethical to do so?)

That's concerning about the exclusion from homebound delivery services. It expresses not a desire to protect children from danger, but a vindictiveness toward a certain subset of people. I'm just idly speculating, but I would guess there is a moral-fiscal motivation here, a belief that whatever public tax dollars go to is equivalent to public condolence of the people those tax dollars benefit. So (again, I'm speculating) such a person might reason that the more a bad person (e.g. a sex offender) benefits from public dollars, the more those bad persons bad actions (e.g. sex offenses) are condoned by society, i.e. taxpayers. The logical action would then be to restrict as much access to such benefits as possible through the legislating of laws that mandate such limits.

If this is the case (again, I could be way off base, I know nothing of Iowa's political climate), then what Iowa intends to redefine "public", and to implement some kind of morally driven social engineering through exclusion.

Where I would personally differ, and I think many in the LIS field would agree with me (a.k.a. LET'S TALK AND FIGURE THIS OUT!), is that the social benefit of libraries has a similar ends, but through a positive means. While some legislators would rather banish "bad people" from sight, we embrace them and offer them help, a chance to become not "bad people". And ultimately, as difficult and counter-intuitive as it may be at times, accept them as human beings and thus create a society that is less likely to produce such bad people.

In other words, maybe we're all in the game of morally driven social engineering insofar as we all want to make the world more like what we think a better world would look like. The difference is whether this is approached through exclusion or through inclusion.


Be aware that this is based off of an Iowa state law. All libraries in Iowa have to follow this same policy.

I'm glad you brought this up.

Perhaps the people (and libraries) of Iowa should be taking a hard stance against this.

What's that? They'll risk funding? Well, what's more important? Humanity or your retirement? People or $$$$? You decide.


In the states in the 10th Circuit you cannot have a law like in Iowa.

See: Court rules sex offender library ban unconstitutional

from the story, which was only about one city in one state: “A regulation like this must be narrowly tailored if it is going to infringe on a right as fundamental as the public’s ability to receive information."

so Iowa probably tailored their law narrowly enough to satisfy the local ACLU... unless they plan a challenge that we haven't heard of... that's the way this stuff is, legal one day, criminal the next...

In any library there are (used to be or should be) a list of Library rules. These range from not eating, not using mobile phones, no starting fires etc.
If the 'public' don't stick to these rules they lose their right to use the facilities.

I am 99.9% sure no public library allows any kind of behavior that could be considered a sexual offense. Such behavior is also very much against the law, everywhere. So the consequences of engaging in such activities in a public library are not only ejection (and at very least temporary banning) from the premises, but also the consequences of breaking the law (e.g. going to jail).

It hardly seems right to deny someone access to a publicly funded library (yes, sex offenders pay taxes too!) on the basis that they might do something bad. Anyone might do something bad... so by this rational, only perfect beings incapable of doing any kind of wrong should be allowed in libraries. I guess Jesus is okay to check out books or movies, but as for the rest of us...


And if the convicted sex offenders, follow the rules of conduct? If they maintain all the civility rules of no eating, no drinking, no cell phones, not defacing public property and conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. If they also maintain appropriateness on the legal side of things, as in not participating in illegal activities on library property. What then?

What someone does outside the library doesn't have bearing on how they would conduct themselves inside the library. The library serves wife-beaters, child abusers, adulterers, drug abusers and many more "undesirables" every single day. Only most of the time, we don't know it because they could be anyone.

Library rules of conduct really don't have a bearing on this policy, because rules of conduct are not law and are often determined only by the library administrators and the library board. This policy deals specifically with a state law, so the enforcement of this policy is not mandatory and has to follow strict guidelines. Rules of conduct tend to be guidelines, and thus more open to leniecy.

They do possibly have something to do with Library rules if one of the rules is not causing a disruption. In some places people knowing who you are could cause that.
You could also say that the Library manager has the right to ban someone if they want to and I don't think and library board or committee or public body would not support their viewpoint.

Wouldn't there also be the issue about being x number of yards from schools etc?

The issue of not being with x number of yards from schools and so on is a legal issue. The law might not specifically recognize the public library as one of those places. My state does not include libraries specifically in the law, and it does not have this extra measure that Iowa does. If your state doesn't have libraries specifically mentioned, you can't ban the convicted sex offenders outright. Also, the Iowa law does bar them access to the inside of the building.

And you run a slippery slope if you allow the library director or library staff to ban "someone if they want to". There has to be a good reason for doing so. If the person was doing something illegal, yes. If they were causing a disturbance, yes. If they threatened anyone physically or verbally, yes. To allow them to ban someone who hasn't done anything immediately wrong, at least in the context of their actions within the library, is blatantly wrong. Any good library board or city council would recognize that, or at least recognize that kind of undefined policy could run the risk of potential lawsuits.

By your scenario, if a disturbance happens and a patron is upset that the convicted sex offender is there, and that convicted sex offender is behaving themselves legally and by library rules of conduct, why should the sex offender be asked to leave? He/she would not be the one causing the disturbance, the upset patron would be. If you ask the sex offender to leave, or force them away with police presence, you run the risk of a slippery slope because that sets up all kinds of scenarios where patrons would expect you to "ban" other patrons in that same manner (homosexuals, blacks, hispanics, etc.).

'To allow them to ban someone who hasn't done anything immediately wrong'

Theres always a way round any rule on sex, age etc.
Rightly or wrongly you can always justify something.

It might not be right but you could easily say a known (and of course you can find out who they are easily these days) convicted sex offender being in a public space where there are children 'could' be seen as causing a nuisence just by them being there.
I think many libraries would be in places near to other children locations such as schools, nurseries etc.
I seem to remember someone online last week showing that in some cities it basically meant that convited sex offenders could not going into their closest major city as it would be impossible to not be within x yards of such a place.

In my state, we don't have the exclusion rules Iowa does. The only thing we have is the residency exclusions. And just last year, the very small town I live in had an instance you mentioned about not being able to find a place to live within 2000 ft. of a daycare, school, or park.

And "rightly or wrongly" is one thing, and legally is another. If a library in my state excludes someone without a law to back that up (or conduct BY the banned person, NOT the people around him/her), they open themselves and the city up to lawsuits. That's taxpayers' money they would be spending to defend themselves in a lawsuit. There is fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers. If there is a need for this kind of exclusion, then it does need to go through the legislature first, either city or state government needs to pass an ordinance or law.

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