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A quiet life? Logbooks reveal abuse faced by Camden’s librarians

Incidents are 'rare' but bad behaviour will lead to bans, says council

18 October, 2018

Swiss Cottage Library

WITH a working day spent in a world famous for its hush, the job of a librarian may seem like the most peaceful of professions.

But behind-the-counter incident logbooks obtained from Camden’s two largest libraries show how the calm can be shattered by more testing encounters than politely reminding readers to whisper. The internal reports, provided to the New Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, show how library staff deal with aggressive visitors, foul-mouthed abuse and threats of physical assault. In some cases, they have admitted to managers feeling “shaken” by incidents that have unfolded at work.

The logbooks from this year show several incidents at Holborn Library, in Theobalds Road, where staff have had to deal with drunk and disruptive men. In one incident, a “heavily drunk” visitor threw a computer monitor to the floor and pulled down a shelf of books after being asked to leave at closing time.

On another occasion, a customer who needed waking up at the end of the day became intimidating, “threatening to kill a member of staff and informing him that he will be waiting outside the library”.

A further incident saw police called after a man was found “curled up near the toilet” after bedding down in the disabled conveniences. On another day a drunk man was found “laid out on the floor in the main library foyer with his belongings scattered around a can of cider next to him… claiming he would hurt them [visitors to the library] if they came near him”.

There are regular reports of loud expletives directed at staff; one of someone being found looking at pornography on library computers; and another of a glass door being kicked in. Staff have had to deal with a user who believed his nuclear scientist mother had been murdered and that police were hunting him for exposing her death.

At Swiss Cottage library, a woman became “really aggressive” and began following a member of staff around after she had been unable to open her emails, shouting: “You are here to serve me” for almost 40 minutes. Another regular – who erroneously refers to himself as “councillor” – intimidated staff with “erratic behaviour”, including throwing his legs over a work area. Staff at the library have been threatened with being punched, and a computer user has kicked a printer tray while a technician was trying to fix it.

Camden leisure chief Councillor Jonathan Sim­pson said: “Camden’s libraries are a place for everyone and are greatly valued among the diverse communities they serve.  Incidents of unacceptable behaviour among our large number of users are rare, but we do have a behaviour policy in place and if required will exclude an individual from the premises or our services and involve the police.”

He added: “The council is working with library staff to support them with additional staffing from our security teams when they have to deal with rare but frankly unacceptable incidents.”


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