Urinating on furniture and watching obscene content – just two of the reasons people have been banned from Essex libraries

Watching obscene content on Valentine’s Day, using recording devices and even urinating on furniture are just some of the reasons people in Essex have been banned from the county’s libraries.

A Freedom of Information request, submitted by the LDRS, revealed over 100 people have been banned from Essex libraries since 2016, most commonly for intimidating and aggressive behaviour.

But Essex County Council revealed more uncommon reasons for bans, including one person who is prohibited for “viewing obscene content” on Valentine’s Day 2017.

Another library banned one person for “accessing inappropriate content” on August 16, 2018, and another person for “using a recording device” on May 14 the same year.

On May 5, 2019, a person was banned for “urination on furniture”.

The year with the highest number of bans issued was 2018, when 50 people were banned across all 74 libraries, but overall numbers dropped significantly in 2020 and 2021 to just two bans in each year.

This is most likely because public libraries were closed during the three national lockdowns which occurred in those years.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “Pre-pandemic, Essex’s library service averaged 4.5million visits per year. Considering this high number of visits, we have very few incidents of poor customer behaviour and the vast majority of people use their libraries appropriately.

“Banning customers from library services is always a very last resort, but is an option available should the circumstances mean it is absolutely necessary in order to protect staff.

“Unreasonable, persistent or abusive customers are managed in line with ECC’s customer behaviour guidelines and the libraries’ banning policy, which is currently being updated.

“Staff are trained to handle difficult situations, supported emotionally, and have access to the Employee Assistance support if required.

“All serious harassment or abusive incidents are also reported to Essex Police directly.”

The county council’s response to the request listed 146 instances of libraries banning people since 2016.

The most common reason for someone being banned was “intimidating behaviour”, which was listed 46 times, followed by “aggressive behaviour” (21 times) and “inappropriate” and “disruptive behaviour” (eight times each).

Colchester Library had banned the most people by far, at 52 bans overall – higher than the total number for all libraries in any one year – followed by Basildon, which has banned 12 people since 2016.

Other reasons given for the bans included “attempted theft”, “intoxication”, “physical violence” and “threatening behaviour”.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter