Tag Archives: Barnes

Others Not Rushing to Join Knox in Banning Sex Offenders from Libraries

Some state leaders and library officials in Tennessee question whether Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett went too far this week when he banned sex offenders from county libraries, reports Mike Donila. The mayor, though, doesn’t care what anyone thinks about the new rule.
“I’ll take some heat and I realize that, and I know that a lot of folks are going to come to the defense of the poor child molesters and poor rapists, but I’m not going to be one of them,” he said. “I have no sympathy whatsoever for them. They can go to a bookstore.”
Burchett’s ban is based on a law passed by the Legislature unanimously earlier this year under sponsorship of Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, and Rep. John Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville. Donila talked with them and with officials of other libraries around the state – and none have any plans to follow the Knox County lead immediately.
“Discretion is one of those things where you and I will disagree, and there will be differences of opinion over how it will be exercised,” said Barnes. “But most important, it gives librarians legal authority to control the access that sex offenders have to libraries.”
He added that small libraries without a separate children’s area that can’t easily be monitored probably should outright ban offenders.
…(Tidwell), however, said the intention was not to ban offenders. The point was to give library directors “the authority to ask them to come back at a later time when there is not a gathering of kids,” the House sponsor said Wednesday.
“I wanted the librarians to have some leeway about what they can do,” said Tidwell.
Tidwell and Barnes said they came up with the new law after a librarian in Houston County several years ago grew concerned over a local sex offender who would routinely visit the library during children’s events.
Knox County appears to be the first of the state’s big four metropolitan library systems to put such a policy in place.
Officials in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga said they are monitoring Knox County’s initiative but don’t expect to implement it. Top library representatives said they have yet to have an incident beyond someone exposing themselves, and they already question and monitor any lone adult who goes into a children’s area.
“I wonder how (Knox County) is going to enforce this,” said Eva Johnston, interim director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library system. “Unless they’re checking IDs at the door and comparing them to the list, it’s probably not going to work.”
Tricia Bengel, interim library director for Nashville Public Library, which has 21 branches, said officials talked with their attorney about Knox County and the state law and “determined that we are not going to do a wholesale ban.”
For example, she said, people use the Nashville system to job hunt in an effort to “make their lives better.”
Officials with the Tennessee Library Association, a statewide, non-profit advocate for libraries, say libraries already have policies in place to protect children, and so long as visitors follow the rules, they should be given access.