Foul-Mouthed Patron Fights Ban from Ann Arbor Library


Fang-Face writes "There's a little more here, at American Libraries Online,
about the Potty-Mouth Patron from Hell. He's appealing his being banned. Unfortunately, I can't find any news reports on this incident through Google or Yahoo, except for one in German.
Even the article on the original story wouldn't come up in the search results, although his autobiographic note in Library Juice 5:32 finally surfaced. (The rest of the search results appear to be links to ads or reviews.)

Is this a free speech issue? Seems so to me. Other cases have ruled that using rude language in public is only rude, not illegal, so it comes down to whether the library policy is a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction. And "We Must Protect The Children" has already been struck down as an overiding concern."


This story was reported on in the Ann Arbor News a week or so ago.


A few years ago I remember it was in the paper that a gentleman was taken to court for using profanity while he was canoeing. A woman, canoeing with her family, took offense and filed a suit against him for using profanity in public. He was fined and I believe he had to pay all court expenses for the parties involved. I would assume this would hold true of someone in a public facility---the Ann Arbor Public Library

...and the 100+ year old profanity law was struck down on appeal.

He was banned for his repeated behavior, not for his language.

It seems from the article that the person in question is one who is on a quest to prove a point by "taking it to the streets." It is interesting that his attempted test cases are libraries. Why didn't he try this in an upscale restaurant, the supermarket, the bank? In those places he would have been thrown out immediately for abusive behavior. He picks libraries because he senses that there are sympathetic people to alleged free speech issues. A library is a public place and the public have a right to not have abusive or disgusting speech in their face especially when there is a public scene. The administration have a right to bar him for his behavior. Has the doctrine of free speech been so perverted that it has expanded to abusive behavior. In our anything goes society, if the library lets this incident ride other perhaps worse things might follow. There was an item in the paper the other day about a violent altercation about a double parked car. There have been bloody endings to fights at the gas pump, pulling ahead to get a parking space etc. Unfortunately, the "me first" mentality has been confused for free speech. The person looking for fertile ground for test cases goes to the library, because it is perceived as the arena and stage for ultra-liberal agenda interpretations,

As a former resident of MI, I think that it is important to point out that it is illegal in MI to swear like that in public anyway. Several years ago a man was tried and convicted for cursing too loudly when he tipped his canoe over. I'm not saying it's right, but I do know that it is the law.

Some news links as follows: -053018-5852r.htm (Washington Post, June 5) 40604.htm (Detroit Free Press, June 4) l.html (WDIV, June 4) /news-9/1086360352141730.xml (Ann Arbor News, June 4)

Thanks for the information. Sounds like a big mess no matter how you look at it.

I can understand the response of "This is free speech" based on what was "reported" in the original article, but as others have said, the article didn't necessarily tell the full story.

We do have a homegrown system that controls access to the machines, but people can get around it if they jump onto a machine right after someone gets up without closing their session.

There's also a backdoor that people can use to get to the desktop if they are moderately knowledgable and dishonest.... we left it open on purpose because it is rarely exploited and it comes in handy for troubleshooting.

It's not usually a problem, and when it happens we explain to the patron that they need to swipe in at the desk first to be assigned to a station.

Mr. Maxwell was trying to bypass the system to avoid having his name show up on the clerk's console... he was on a month ban at the time for a previous incident and knew he was not supposed to be in the library.

Oh, and the cards are available to anyone who shows a picture ID, not just library patrons.

Let's envision an experiment - let's ask Mr. Maxwell to only patronage libraries that have card swipers on the public computer stations - Who out there wants to work behind the reference desk when he strolls in - I wouldn't - I think he would still be a belligerent whenever the mood suits him because he apparently thinks that is his constitutional right.

That would eliminate them using the station but they could sit there if they wished. Strangely some people in my local library like to sit at public computer terminals and read books.

I'm not sure I fully understand.

Doesn't the AADL have a system in which if you have a library card, you swipe the card at the computer station and once the card is recognized, you are allowed to use the computer? Wouldn't that system eliminate the possibility of a patron sitting down at a station without authorization?

I'm the IT manager at the Ann Arbor District Library, and I supervise the staffer who Mr. Maxwell was verbally abusing when our security staff asked him to calm down. This was his third occasion yelling at staff and making a scene. In this instance, he had intentionally bypassed our sign-in system and sat down at a computer. The staff member locked the computer and he flew off the handle. After he refused to calm down, the police were called, and he was banned for a year in accordance with our Rules of Behavior.

This is not about his language. It's about his ignoring our rules of behavior, berating staff for doing their jobs, and ignoring our warnings.

Kudos to Ann Arbor Director Josie Parker - Throw the bum out if he cannot follow the rules! Thanks for posting the article - it is great to read about library administrators that support the front line staff of public libraries - When I worked at the reference desk I did not have to put up with patrons like that - and neither should the library staff at Ann Arbor

I'm glad to learn they didn't haul him out of the library for swearing. I'd have been out of a job a long time ago if that were the case.

There's always a story behind the story. This guy is known in libraries nation-wide apparently. I knew him in Seattle. He's a few eggs short of a dozen, a great writer and a pretty charismatic and charming guy... when he's being cool. Apparently in this instance he wasn't just swearing, he was being directly confrontational and out of line with staff for the umpteenth time in recent history, violating codes of conduct. He wasn't banned for using the "f word" no matter what the newspaper says. The news article only tells part of the story. From what I've heard [from people who work there, from others who know him] this isnt' much of a free speech issue and it's pretty amazing that the incident[s] got the press that they did.

When I was in schoole we called people like that attention whores. No matter what they did they had to be the center of attention.

One man's activist is another man's attention whore.

I am an outspoken, loud, SOB, but I manage not to curse in the library, frankly I keep a civil tongue everywhere in public. My cursing comes mostly when I am using a hammer or fixing the car.

Getting attention for the good works you do is much more rewarding than getting attention for calling a librarian dirty names.

Sure it is a free speech issue, he is free to be an attention whore and I am free to think he is an idiot for losing his temper and cursing at the staff. Just because his speech is protected by law does not make him less of an idiot.

He was acquitted on appeal and the law was found to be unconstitutional:

2002, April 01: Vulgar language ban struck down

In Michigan. A three-judge panel at the state appeals court ruled that a 105 year old statute was unconstitutional. Passed in 1897 and slightly reworded in 1931, the statute says that a person using "indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." In 1999 Timothy Joseph Boomer was convicted under this law after he fell into Rifle River during a canoe trip. Although two local judges upheld the
conviction, the appeals court ruled, "Allowing a prosecution where one utters 'insulting' language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction."