posted on sat, oct. 30, 2004

task force calls libraries safe, offers ways to make them safer

inquirer staff writer

a joint security task force set up in february to study safety in the city's libraries after an 8-year-old girl was raped and almost killed at the independence branch has concluded that the city's facilities are "generally safe."

"while acts of violence may sometimes occur that cannot be avoided, by and large, library buildings are safe," the 16-member task force said in its report, which was released yesterday.

the task force, made up of one police representative and 15 library employees and security staff, also made recommendations for physical improvements, policy changes and staff training to improve safety.

while visiting the free library's independence branch at 13 s. seventh st. in center city with her grandmother and two other youngsters on feb. 7, the 8-year-old was attacked in the women's restroom. another child found her unconscious and partly clothed, wedged between the toilet and the wall.

a homeless man, brian mccutcheon, was arrested. earlier, he had been banned from the central library for using computers to view pornography, but the ban did not cover branch libraries. he pleaded guilty in may to attempted murder, attempted rape and other charges.

the task force recommended improved coordination in the library system so that bans in one library could be imposed systemwide. it also recommended that access to restrooms be limited with buzzers or keys.

at the time of the february attack, restroom access at the chinatown branch was by key, but one library regular said the door had been propped open before the attack.

the task force also recommended that the free library consider tightening up disciplinary rules for patrons who act out.

elliot shelkrot, the free library's president, said: "while libraries are still a safe haven for customers, we recognize that there is always room for improvement. our number-one priority is maintaining a safe environment for the public and library staff."

contact staff writer frederick cusick at 215-854-4449 or

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