The city closed its new Billie Jean King Main Library in Downtown for in-person service due to security concerns among staff, officials said.

The library, opened in 2019 at a cost of $48 million, is now open for to-go service only. The change went into effect Sept. 27 and was initially expected to last for two weeks, according a notice the city posted on Twitter—however Cathy De Leon, director of library services, said Thursday it will likely be a few more weeks before the facility reopens to the public.

De Leon said the library has had to strike a balance between providing for the safety of the public and staff from people experiencing mental health issues in and around the facility, located at Broadway and Pacific Avenue, and offering services to the public.

The Long Beach Police Department assigns special security personnel to the library but has experienced staffing shortages, she said. “It’s impacting their ability to have a consistent security presence,” she said.

She said the library has had situations where individuals have had an active mental health crisis on the premises. Staff members do their best to de-escalate situations, but some incidents require a police response.

“It’s no different than a number of urban libraries,” she said.

Councilmember Suzie Price said at a mayoral forum late last month that staff members have been attacked by people experiencing mental health issues, and “they want armed police officers there to protect them.”

The city said in its tweet that “during this service shift, we will work to address appropriate staffing levels and specialized staff training will take place to best support our Library team and all of our community members who visit our library.”

Other library branches remain open to the public, though since early August, three branches have remained open only to to-go services as well due to staffing shortages: Alamitos, Brewitt and Dana.

Library staff at the three locations—and now at the main library—meet cardholders at the door and hand deliver the requested items, according to De Leon. Library patrons can used the LBPL To-Go function to order materials.

Last year security concerns at the main library also prompted the construction of an 8-foot-tall chain link fence around the library to prevent illegal camping on the premises during construction of Lincoln Park. The fence, which has since been taken down, was requested by the construction company for added security, a library official said at the time.

City installs chain-link fence around Main Library after concerns about illegal camping

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.