HomeCity NewsBurbank Library Staff Pleads for Stronger Security Measures

Burbank Library Staff Pleads for Stronger Security Measures

Everyone in the library was silent and wary.

A librarian was on the phone with police as the sounds of shattering glass and violent screams carried through the closed bathroom door.

Later, library staff stood in front of a child, shielding her from a man as he lodged morbid death threats in their direction, hurled a trash can against a mirror, and toppled and shattered an acrylic shelf.

Police arrested the man who terrorized staff and patrons at the Northwest branch of the Burbank Public Library last month. The episode is among the most severe of the 207 recorded incidents that have taken place at the city’s three library branches since July 2023.

Library workers report an unhealthy working environment rife with hostile and unsettling clashes with patrons, periodic bedbug sightings and what they say is a lack of support from supervising library administrators, according to interviews with 10 Burbank Public Library staff members.

“I believe it is only a matter of time before a staff member or the public gets seriously hurt at this library,” said Hubert Kozak, a librarian who has worked in Burbank for 24 years.

Heightened psychological distress is a common experience for Burbank library workers. Of those interviewed by the Leader, all said they have felt traumatized by events that occurred while at work.

Some reported having experienced stalking, physical violence and death threats, and most said they have been the target of hate speech, sexual harassment and verbal abuse while on the job.

Internal incident reports — recorded by library staff to document problems — are taken just about every other day and can range from a simple rule enforcement to an acute crisis where physical violence is threatened or carried out, according to incident reports obtained by the Leader.

Between those extremes, library staff have reported witnessing public masturbation, defecation, intoxication, verbal disturbances and weapon possession.

A spokesman for the city of Burbank said officials are routinely made aware of library staff concerns.

“Safety is a top priority for the city of Burbank, for both employees and members of the public using our public spaces, including libraries,” said Burbank spokesman Jonathan Jones. “If library users violate the rules of conduct, they may receive warnings or have their privileges suspended. Of the nearly half a million annual in-person visits to Burbank’s libraries, less than half of one percent of users result in an incident.”

The number of recorded episodes has steadily increased since 2021, according to documents reviewed by the Leader. From July 2021 to June 2022, there were 140 recorded incidents. During the following 12 months, library staff recorded 195 incidents. And though this year’s reporting period has yet to end, there have already been 207 incident reports filed through mid-April.

“We never know what to expect or when something might happen. Everyone is on edge all of the time,” said Kozak. “A number of longtime patrons have chosen to stop coming to the library for good.”

According to the city, the Burbank Police Mental Health Evaluation Team and Streetplus — the city’s safety patrol — are on call when library staff needs assistance. And though staff’s requests for uniformed on-site security or a dedicated law enforcement presence have gone unmet, administrators have designated a position called “library monitor,” tasked with de-escalating tensions in the library.

Additionally, Jones told the Leader “all city employees are encouraged to contact Burbank Police Department in any circumstance where they feel unsafe.”

Last year, the City Council agreed to fund two additional library monitor positions to improve on-site security, Jones told the Leader.

Both of those library monitors told the Leader they feel powerless to resolve conflicts, and don’t feel they are given the tools to solve issues on a daily basis.

“The whole job is a gray area,” said Glen Dunzweiler, a monitor at two library branches. “I think they keep it gray so they can then pick and choose if they don’t like something we do.”

Dunzweiler started to work at the library while he was recovering after a bad motorcycle accident. His initial goal was to pursue work in a positive environment while he regained his strength, he said.

“Since I started working here, I’ve noticed a general feeling of sadness,” he said. “Leaders don’t really work on day-to-day operations of the library. You barely see them.”

According to Kozak, it wasn’t long before other monitors quit.

“It has taken forever to replace them, so there has been no net gain,” he said, adding that monitors do not receive much training and their starting pay is close to minimum wage. “The whole concept of the job is ill-conceived.”

Staffing at the library is a revolving door. According to several library staff, the BPL has a serious retention problem, as qualified staff are leaving the position and choosing other employment avenues for work.


One former Burbank librarian, Jane Kim, said she resigned from the library because of the chaos and stress of the health and safety issues there.

Near the end of her time at the library, Kim was approached by a patron who found bedbugs on her clothes. There have been five reported sightings of the persistent pests this year, and eight last year. The library has had the issue since as early as 2017, when Library Director Elizabeth Goldman first informed the City Council of the problem.

Since then, there have been quarterly preventive sprayings and administration brings out exterminators whenever there are sightings.

But Kim told the Leader that staff is discouraged from informing the public of bedbug sightings. In a 2022 email to staff, Goldman wrote, “If asked by the public about the closure, just say [Buena Vista] is only open as a cooling center, and don’t mention the bedbugs.”

She later amended this statement, saying the public was already aware of the outbreak because of a council member’s social media post, adding “I still wouldn’t recommend bringing it up unless you want to spend the rest of the day having a lot of awkward conversations.”

According to Jones, bedbugs are a common problem for many large public spaces.

“The library has established procedures to inform the public about serious issues, including bedbug infestations or any other significant concerns. All libraries struggle occasionally with pests including bedbugs, the same as hotels, airports, theaters, and other spaces with large numbers of people passing through. The city of Burbank’s Library Services and Public Works Departments have worked together to develop protocols of reporting, regular inspection, and treatment that have for many years successfully prevented the inevitable occasional introduction of pests from turning into infestations,” Jones told the Leader.

Kim said that she ultimately left because of a combination of issues, including the pests, safety scares and an environment that wasn’t safe for people of color. She recalled one particular patron who would frequently cause her, and other workers, fear and distress.

“He would often say racist things to me and my fellow [Asian and Pacific Islander] librarians as well,” Kim said. “I’d always have this heightened level of awareness and anxiety when I would see him in the building. ‘OK, what’s he going to do today?’”

She described the process library staff endured in suspending another patron for routinely masturbating at the computers, in some cases with his clothes entirely off. The man would be suspended for days at a time. As he collected more infractions, the suspensions became longer. Just as the suspensions expired, the man would return and break the rules again.

Kozak assisted Kim with the issue. He told the Leader that he was allowed to suspend the man only for 30 days. He requested a longer suspension or permanent ban but said that he was met with resistance from library administrators.

It took Kozak threatening to go to the city manager with the issue before a two-year ban was issued.

Administrators do have to consider lawsuits and are often working to mitigate risk when it comes to employee-patron conflicts.

“In buildings with so many uses, where space is at a premium, there are occasional challenges,” Jones said. “The city has a robust set of policies, practices, partnerships, and employee training to maximize safety and empower staff to maintain an environment that balances people’s rights in a public space with overall safety and peace.”

And, while the act of public masturbation is against the law, legal pornography is technically permitted for viewing at the library.

“Burbank has offered internet access through public computers since the 1990s, and the adult computers at libraries have never been subject to filtering, in compliance with free speech principles. All laws regarding pornography are enforced,” said Jones.

According to Kozak, the library has eased restrictions in recent years in order to accommodate the changing needs of patrons, many of whom are experiencing homelessness and other problems.

“We relaxed the rules about eating in the library, and those about sleeping all day here, and also about the amount of time you could be on a public computer here,” he said. “We allowed people to monopolize bathrooms for long periods of time, and to also use them for bathing.”

Issues are primarily caused by repeat offenders. Library staff filed 18 incident reports for a single offender this year. Another patron has logged 26 offenses since 2021. Staff said there should be a better way to identify and discipline problem patrons.

Kozak said many of the library patrons are “destitute and suffering,” but that “they are not the source of our problems. The problems come from but a few people, mostly those who are seriously mentally ill or violent. They endanger not only the staff, but all of the … people we are trying to help, by letting them live here.”

According to Jones, library and city administrators regularly review incidents to identify and implement improvements and mitigations. It is not always justified to suspend a patron despite poor behavior, as all members of the public have a right to library services.

“The city’s libraries are open to all members of our community and there is a diverse array of materials, programs, and services for people of all ages, interests, and various backgrounds,” Jones said.

All members of staff interviewed told the Leader that they had brought safety concerns to library administrators and felt their concerns were not adequately addressed, and some said their issues were minimized or they were made to feel like they were at fault. Others said they were corrected when they spoke out about safety matters.

“This all has gone on for years here,” said Kozak. “I don’t believe they understand the extent of the problem, they don’t understand how endangered patrons and staff feel working here, and I don’t think they have any intention of taking action that would solve these problems and make a more secure public space for staff or patrons.”


Of the library staff interviewed, nine of 10 said they wanted to see on-site security or a law enforcement presence.

When the Leader asked the city which steps have been taken by library administrators to mitigate further traumatic incidents, Jones responded:

“To support our team, all city employees, including those at the libraries, have access to the Employee Assistance Program for any concerns, including mental health. Additionally, library employees benefit from regular onsite EAP access, guidance from the city’s social worker, and comprehensive training programs designed to help mitigate further traumatic incidents and provide the necessary tools for coping and recovery.”

Goldman sent an email to library staff about the EAP program. One staff member replied to that email, saying “I’d much rather have a security presence, [like] a uniformed guard and working video cameras, to help mitigate the incidents that are currently occurring with regularity over a therapist who we are only really needing at this time because there are no preventative measures being taken to stop dangerous incidents in the first place.”

Additionally, staff told the Leader that the library’s camera systems have not been functional for years.

When the Leader asked the city if the camera systems were functional, Jones replied, “functional security cameras are operational during library service hours.”

But numerous communications to staff from Goldman detail the camera outage, and reference a broken “panic button” used in emergencies.

In an update to staff about the broken panic button and security cameras, Goldman wrote, “the cameras on our libraries are old and on multiple, incompatible systems. Some work, and some don’t. We do review footage where relevant for incidents, but even when the cameras are working, they do not necessarily capture the exact right spot.”

As city leaders press forward on a new $132.8 million Central Library construction project, frontline workers and staff told the Leader that the operation and safety of existing library operations have been sidelined.

Staff told the Leader that they believe a number of common-sense security measures, coupled with proactive support from library administrators, would encourage a culture of safety and deter problem offenders from taking advantage of library workers, increasing morale and reducing staff turnover.

“There’s no culture of care. There’s no transparency. There’s no communication, top to bottom,” Kim said. “It’s like we’re second-class citizens down here, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We are not asking for much, just a little bit of decency.”

First published in the May 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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