Nelson city councillor Gaile Noonan and youth worker Liam Doherty outside the Stoke Library where recent troubles have caused council to look at how to better engage with young people. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Violence at Nelson libraries

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KATE RUSSELL & CHARLES ANDERSON

Nelson City Council has deployed security guards and youth workers to Stoke Library after a damning report highlighted repeated incidents of assault and abuse, including people using needles to fire ‘blow darts’ at passers-by.

The report on security incidents at all three Nelson City Council libraries was presented to council’s audit risk and finance subcommittee last Tuesday after an independent security risk assessment survey was carried out last September.

The report says that Stoke, Elma Turner and Nellie Nightingale Memorial libraries have all been experiencing security incidents for “some time”.

In November, a security guard was put in place at Stoke Library after a significant increase in anti-social and criminal behaviour, it says.

There have been 78 incidents at libraries in the past two years – the most being at Stoke Library (43) then Elma Turner (29) and Nellie Nightingale (6). Police were called to 41 of these.

Nelson city councillor Gaile Noonan says the trend was flagged last year, which lead to a more comprehensive report.

“I noticed a trend that I wasn’t happy with,” she says. “I was really uncomfortable about it.”

In 25 of the incidents youth were identified as the cause, with 21 of them at Stoke Library.

Security incidents in and around libraries have included: fighting between customers, verbal abuse of staff including threats, spitting at staff, theft of property, use of alcohol and illegal drugs, loud swearing, possession of weapons, intimidation of customers, inappropriate use of electronic media using library Wi-Fi, stolen bikes, graffiti and breaches of previous trespass notices.

A library staff member was also assaulted on their way home from work by a youth who had threatened them the previous week.

At Elma Turner Library, two customers also received needle injuries from sewing machine needles that were likely to have been fired as blow darts through a straw.

Some staff were referred to workplace support for counselling and were temporarily taken off the roster at Stoke Library.

Although the security guard is said to have been reassuring for staff, the report says it is not seen as a long term solution.

Gaile says, before the report’s release youth workers were also asked to come and monitor the situation at Stoke Library.

“At least we have caught it and we are doing something about it,” she says.

Youth worker Liam Doherty has been at the Stoke Library all last week and will spend the next five weeks there.

“It’s all about building relationships and doing positive things.”

Liam says his impression is that many of the incidents are due to boredom.

“I don’t know if you have looked around Stoke recently – there is not a lot for them to do. They need their own space where they can be loud and themselves.”

He says there is a group of 10 – 15 young people who go to the library every day.

“It’s fine youth workers coming down but really something needs to happen long term. They only come here because there are seats and WiFi.”

A more detailed report will go to the community services committee, outlining actions as to how issues with youth will be addressed.