Security guards hired to protect Bristol's libraries during school holidays

The council fears anti-social behaviour is stopping libraries from being a 'safe space'.

A number of libraries in Bristol have hired security guards to tackle anti-social behaviour during school holidays.

The problem is affecting all 27 libraries in the city, with some having to shut or change their opening hours, a council meeting heard on Monday 20 November.

Bristol City Council has said Junction 3 in Easton, Filwood, Southmead and Hartcliffe's libraries are most affected.

The council added that it's planning major changes to libraries in 2024- including looking at how they're accessed and changing opening hours.

Bristol's library service is the third oldest in the country and started 410 years ago. It now employs 183 staff.

Kate Murray, head of libraries, said: “It tends to be in school holidays.

"It’s challenging because we absolutely want the library to be a safe space for everybody but it can’t be safe if we have too much behaviour that’s not conducive to other customers.

"We employ a variety of efforts from engaging with PCSOs and the police, to looking at access and changing the opening hours.

"Sometimes we’ve had to close and sometimes we’ve had to put security staff in. We mix it up because things work one time and they don’t work other times.

"If people who want to use the library are intimidated by other users, then they don’t come in. Or if they find that the library is closed or looks closed, as we’re trying to deter what’s happening outside, then we might miss them.

"The whole idea of having a library is that it’s a universal service. We should be an open door, so it’s upsetting for us.”

Ms Murray added that libraries work with a wide range of other services to clamp down on anti-social behaviour.

"We’ve got to make sure that everyone is safe and also support young people who aren’t causing issues," she said.

Bristol’s libraries have been under threat in recent years due to ongoing budget cuts.

Several library closures were proposed in 2018 but these plans were scrapped after huge public opposition.

Last year saw a plan to relocate the Central Library from its Grade-I listed home on College Green, but this too was scrapped after public opposition.

Green Councillor Martin Fodor, chair of the communities scrutiny commission, said: “My worry is — and this is the thing that’s hanging over us — in the next few years we’re likely to have less money rather than more, fewer libraries rather than the same number.

"It’s a threat that keeps coming back, but it’s never quite happened yet.“We’re really lucky we’ve got 27 [libraries], because we could have had half that number a few years back.

"We’ve held on to them but the hours have shrunk and so has the capacity.”