Sex offender law a challenge for libraries

July 24, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

Librarians aren’t sure how often they’ll be asked to let someone subject to the new sex offender law inside their libraries.

“I would hope once in every five or six years,” Dee Crowner, director of the North Liberty public library, said with a laugh.

I had a story in today’s paper and online about how libraries are dealing with the new law. It prohibits people convicted of sex offenses against minors from being in public libraries, schools and child-care centers without permission, and from loitering within 300 feet of places intended primarily for children.

Click here to read the story.

With the law being so new (it took effect July 1), Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek also wasn’t sure how often those subject to the law would seek permission to be in a library, but he expects libraries to get requests at some point.

“I think that sooner or later, it will likely come up,” he said.

As of Thursday, there were 267 registered sex offenders in Linn County and 87 in Johnson County, not counting those at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale. It was not immediately clear how many were convicted of sex offenses against a minor and therefore barred from public libraries without permission. 

Librarians say enforcing the law will be tough.

“We’re not legal agencies,” said Tamara Glise, interim director of the Cedar Rapids library.

At an meeting of the Iowa City library board Thursday night, Director Susan Craig said they expect to have a list of the names of all individuals subject to the law. But she too said it would be difficult to enforce.

“It’s not our job to stand at the door and make sure everyone who comes in is legally allowed to be here,” she said.

Before the meeting, I asked her if the library could cross-reference the its database of people who hold library cards with the sex offender registry, and if someone on the registry checked out a book, that would raise a red flag that they were in the library.

But she pointed out that people can have someone else check out materials for them, so using a card does not necessarily mean that person was in the library.

Other local libraries also are considering allowing a designated person, or a courier, get items for someone barred from the library.

One other note. The North Liberty library is in an unusual position in that it is in the same building as the town’s recreation center. The recreation center is not an exclusionary zone under the law, so no one is barred from being in it.

Crowner, the library director, said that made the new law even more complicated for them.