New Rochelle Public Library Board Slams Journal News Story on Surveillance Cameras as Misleading, Wrong and Unfounded

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New Rochelle Public Library Board Slams Journal News Story on Surveillance Cameras as Misleading, Wrong and Unfounded

February 03, 2010 - 14:00

n1630954720_7777.jpgGregory T. Varian, Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the New Rochelle Public Library has written a scathing denunciation of the Journal News, a letter-to-the-editor published today by the paper, which accuses the JN of making false claims, failing to investigate properly, publishing a misleading story, making poorly informed assumptions and "providing no evidence for the basis of its story". Varian, a land use lawyer with offices at 270 North Avenue, delivers the coup de grace stating flatly "The Journal News headline lacked a story".

Ouch! It sounds like something I might have written. Who knew I had an ally on the NRPL Board of Trustees?

Talk of the Sound, not knowing the context provided by Mr. Varian, had previously praised the article because it was an example of the Journal News taking the trouble to obtain police records and doing real investigative reporting.

At the heart of Varian's complaint is that the Journal News made a connection between a decision by the board to "install surveillance cameras inside and outside the main library building" and an "unsubstantiated increase in disruptive behavior".

The Journal News wrote:

The New Rochelle Public Library installed surveillance cameras at its central branch in response to behavior and security issues.

Varian states that the decision to install the cameras was part of an ongoing, proactive effort to improve security and had nothing to do with any supposed "behavior and security issues". He criticizes the paper for failing to FOIL for incident reports from past years and thus not documenting its claim that there has been any increase in behavior and security issues. I understand what he wrote but in all fairness to the Journal News, the paper did not say anything about an increase in disruptive behavior only that there were reports of disruptive behavior during after-school hours which appears to be well-documented by NRPD records.

In his letter-to-the-editor, Varian goes on to cite the many good things going on at the New Rochelle Public Library. As the JN has a terrible policy of removing most every article after about two weeks, and in the interest of highlighting Mr. Varians recitation of the many good things going on with the New Rochelle Public Library we publish his entire letter here:

Surveillance cameras aren't real story of New Rochelle Public Library

Re: "New Rochelle, Yonkers libraries ramp up security," Jan. 24 article:

The above-referenced article was misleading. The article correctly noted that the New Rochelle Public Library has installed surveillance cameras, but wrongly assumed that this action was in response to an unsubstantiated increase in disruptive behavior. The paper cited police reports for 2009, but failed to investigate year-over-year statistics, thus providing no evidence for the basis of its story.

In fact, the library's board of trustees made the decision to install surveillance cameras inside and outside the main library building, not in response to an increase of crime, emergency medical service, suspicious activity or disruptive behavior (all reasons for contacting the police), but rather, as part of an ongoing, proactive effort to improve security for an ever-increasing number of patrons.

While The Journal News headline lacked a story, I do think the New Rochelle Public Library has a story to tell that our local media have failed to report. Usage at the New Rochelle Public Library is increasing dramatically, and the library is responding. In the last year, a Computer Training Lab was created and a six-computers work space was added to our enlarged teen area, augmenting the 20 existing computers for our patrons without Internet access or in need of such access downtown.

A total rewiring and electrical upgrade of the main library building has just been completed, which will result in 30 more computers available for Internet access within the next two months. Music listening and downloading, a library offering not imagined just a few years ago, is now available with the establishment in 2009 of the state of the art Bliss Music Center featuring more than 3,200 music CDs. Meanwhile, the NRPL's core mission of loaning books, and DVDs and audio books, has increased over 21 percent from 518,000 titles in 2007 to 631,000 last year. Children's book lending continues to break records, just behind Yonkers, a city three times our size.

Our unique Huguenot Children's Library was just remodeled. And the New Rochelle Public Library's free programs have more than doubled since 2007: book discussion groups, homework help for our children, English-language classes for our adults, dance performances, art exhibits, story times for youngsters, craft workshops, film lectures; and much-needed job search assistance in the Handleman Business Opportunity Center; and free tax preparation assistance again this tax season with volunteers from the AARP.

These difficult economic times place greater demands on our public libraries and on our beleaguered property taxpayer, the principal source of funding for public libraries. The New Rochelle Public Library's trustees have remained ever sensitive to the stress on the city's property taxpayers: Full-time staff has actually been reduced from 42 in 2005 to 35 in 2009, and of the 38 public libraries in Westchester, New Rochelle's per-capita public spending is the sixth lowest. Without the tremendous support of the NRPL Foundation, Friends of the Library, Partnership for the Huguenot Children's Library, as well as philanthropic and state and county grants, the New Rochelle Public Library could not have responded as well as it has to the increased needs of our patrons. Now that's a story worth reading.

Gregory T. Varian

There are 4 Comments

I have witnessed police in the library many times because of disturbances. Some patrons do feel the library has gotten too noisy and disorderly.

Robert Cox's picture

Whatever the reason, it would appear that everyone can agree that making use of technology to improve security of the public without being intrusive and at a reasonable cost is a good decision.

Having taken steps to improve security, regardless of motive, the question now becomes whether the library is currently "noisy and disorderly" or, if it was at one level whether that level has decreased.

The issue appears to be "after-school" hours, the kids get out of school and are rambunctious. This would seem to be pretty normal behavior for youths.

The question is whether a public library is the right place to go to blow off steam after school and what alternatives exists for them. If for example, many of these kids are coming from a particular school, perhaps the school can be encouraged to recruit the kids for alternative activities that will be fun/beneficial for them and provide a properly supervised environment for them.

If these kids are coming from a public school then there is even greater incentive to work out some alternative gathering places at the schools because the school district does have some financial responsibility for the library.

Good news the library is expanding and attracting more crowds but that has nothing to do with the increased level of rowdiness there . I can tell you from first hand experience about the noise and distraction that has become the norm rather than the exception lately . I have been at the meetings where library board members heard residents complain over and over about how hard it is to sit quietly and read or research without being interupted by the constant chatter of foul mouthed kids who have no reason to be there other than it being a good place to hang out . I know college students who would rather travel to other libraries to work , for the same reason . I've complained to the staff about what my kids are experiencing with nothing being done . Board members try to explain how the role of the library is changing but that doesn't justify the lack of respect for the other patrons trying to utilize the facilities . Say what you will but I don't accept the facility becoming a glorified day care center . You can pretend all is well but for the rest of us who use the place the truth is as plain as day . The police reports don't lie . So spend some real time there and witness it for yourself and then maybe you could find a book about pulling heads out of the sand .

Clearly this was a knee jerk reaction to what I perceive a very generic story. There is too much sensitivity regarding the New Rochelle Public Library (NRPL) because of the backroom dealing between the City and Library to impose a new tax on already overburdened taxpayers. The Library never got the message sent in the first two defeated votes so now every time there is anything remotely perceived as negative one of the library minions rush to defend their honor. Mr. Varian paints the usual tranquil picture with no problems and indeed the library offers many great programs which I agree are important in these challenging economic times. The fact of the matter is that the New Rochelle Police Department (NRPD) uses multiple addresses when compiling calls for service from the NRPL. Upon submitting a FOIL request for service calls to the NRPL it was revealed the combined addresses had a total of 191 calls for service from the NRPD in 2009. The highlights are;
41 calls for disorderly conduct
21 calls for 911 hang ups
14 calls for property security investigation
7 calls for larceny
6 calls for disputes
3 calls for suspicious persons
The original article and Mr. Varian’s response deal with “disruptive behavior” which is similar to disorderly conduct so 41 times it was necessary to contact the NRPD for disorderly conduct. I would guess there had to be at least twice that number that didn’t require police intervention and at least the same amount that were simply ignored.

There are behavior problems at the NRPL and installing security cameras is positive step. I hope the library has the foresight to install a camera near the phone bank to reduce the number of 911 hang-ups.

At the end of the day the original article and Mr. Varian’s response were much ado about nothing.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Varian good luck as it is my understanding that he is seeking the democratic nomination for the upcoming election to replace Judge Sandy Scher. The winner will have the gargantuan task of attempting to fill Judge Scher’s shoes.

Anthony Galletta