Campus considers risks, benefits of sharing Belk Library with outside community

by Laura Smith, March 10, 2009

Following the sexual  harrassment incident that occurred in Belk library Feb. 7, many have been questioning the safety of a place Elon students consider the central location for student interaction.

 Belk Library, while a prime location for studying, writing and other collegiate educational purposes, has open doors to members of the local community as well.

 In the wake of the alleged rape that took place on the first floor of Belk, Elon has created a subcommittee under the Student Life Committee to oversee the safety of the building.

 Organized by Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of student life, the subcommittee has met once last week, to discuss the matter.

 “We wanted to put a process to review security (in the library),” Jackson said.

  Also involved are Mary Wise, assistant vice president for academic affairs, Chuck Gantos, director of Campus Safety and Police, two students from the Student Life Committee and Kate Hickey, dean and university librarian.

 “Part of the mission of the library is to provide some local service to the local community,” Hickey said.  “It’s one of those things that could have happened anywhere.”

 Hickey reports to Wise, who agrees with Hickey that the library is there for the local community as well.

 “I think the library should be open to residents because we have some concern about being a community member,” Wise said.

 She also said some of these people may not have computers at home and Belk allows them to have use of its computers.

 The Carol Grotnes Belk Library was built in 2000. Prior, it was housed in what is now the McEwen communications building. The library has always been open to the public.

 In order to use the library, an unaffiliated Elon resident must show an ID if over the age of 16 and is given a password to the first floor computers that is only good for one day.

 On busy weekends, such as Parent’s Weekend and orientation weekends, generic passwords are given out due to a high flow of activity in the library at those times.

 Residents can also purchase a “guest card” on which they can put money for copying and printing.

 In addition, residents can pay $25 for a Friends of the Library card in order to check out books. On this card, reserves and DVDs cannot be checked out.

 According to Hickey, there are currently around 200 people with these cards.

 She also estimates she distributes around 50 passwords to visitors on a busy day.

 Hickey said she has never seen an incident such as the one that occured on Feb. 7.

 “We have very few residents after nine,” she said. “We’ve never had a problem late at night.”

 Sophomore Katie Ward, who is a library assistant, said she feels a little uneasy about the incident but nothing extreme to prevent her from doing her job.

 “I feel a little less safe because it was so strange that no one was here (to see it),” she said. “As long as students have priority, I think it’s fine (residents use the library).”

 Hickey said she feels the same way.

 “This particular incident seemed like there was no threat to me,” she said. “I’m disturbed about it, but I don’t feel threatened.”

 The library has security rounds where campus police walk through, and according to Hickey, taking extreme security measures such as installing cameras in study rooms is out of the question.

 Hickey said it is an invasion of privacy and students would react negatively. So far, there have been no complaints from students to library staff in regards to the incident.

 According to Jackson, the result of the committee’s meeting was the decision to enhance safety features such as registration, IDs for people under age 16, signs reminding students to watch their belongings and storage spaces for laptops.

 “It was unanimous to people that we don’t want to change policy to not allow people from the community to use the library,” Jackson said.

 Jackson also reiterated that if an incident such as this were to happen again, the campus would be notified immediately.

  “In general, we can make the library a safer place,” Hickey said. “If students are encountering incidents in the library that are making them uncomfortable, I would hope they would tell us.”

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