Building Library Security
Entrances and exits from the library are a particular concern with regard to theft of library materials. When designing a new library, the ideal arrangement is a single point of entry to the secure area of the facility. Magnetic theft detection devices are placed at this location to sound an alarm if unchecked library materials are taken through this point of control.
Occasionally, however, it may be desirable for external planning reasons to allow patrons to approach and enter the library from opposite directions, resulting in two points of entry to the building. It is important in these situations to continue to maintain a single point of entry to the secure area of the library.
Special collections spaces, depending on the value of the collections, may require a different level of security design and electronic systems. The risk of theft, particularly for rare books and artifacts, can be high.
The special collections service desk should be given a clear line of sight to the reading tables and book stacks. Flat open tables are preferred to enclosed furniture or carrels, so that "natural surveillance" can be maintained at all times. If book stacks are located in the special collection reading areas, they should not be positioned so that the visibility of any patron workstation is blocked.
Children's library areas are also sensitive with regard to space design and control features, both for protection and monitoring of children's activities. Views in and out of these areas should be through controlled spaces only. Access should also be controlled by positioning the children's area within the secure area of the library, though within easy access of the entry and main security checkpoint.
The architect should generally try to minimize the number of required staffing locations within the library for reasons of operating economy. Avoiding poor space planning that results in security concerns for certain areas of the building is part of this design objective because such concerns could result in the need for a staff monitoring location.
Physical (nonelectronic) protection for libraries is the first level of defense against theft and vandalism. Window, door, and display case protection and "dummy" security devices all ensure that criminals do not have uncontrolled access to the assets of the library.
Window locks should be fitted to all windows that can open and are accessible without the means of a ladder. For best control, these windows can be secured by key-operated locks (not just a simple latch). This includes all ground floor windows, windows above garages or other roof tops, windows near walls or pipes or other structures that could be used for unauthorized access.
Generally, any window over about two feet (60 centimeters) in height should be fitted with two key-operated window locks to prevent forced opening.
If the library location has the potential for burglary through windows or vandalism to the windows, then guards, grilles, bars, security screens, or security films may be appropriate. Securing the window through the use of guards, grilles, or bars is not always architecturally acceptable, although they can be a cost effective solution in certain circumstances.
Door protection includes cylindrical locks, deadbolts, mortise locks, and gates. A cylindrical lockset fits into a large hole bored into the door's face with the keyhole in the door knob. This type of lock provides the least amount of security in door protection.
The addition of a deadbolt enhances protection by increasing the metal support into the door jam. The throw of the deadbolt should be at least one inch (2.5 centimeters). A mortise lockset fits into a rectangular pocket in the door's edge and usually has a deadbolt that is integrated with the locking mechanism. When you turn the key from the outside, it releases both the knob and the deadbolt. The mortise lockset is the most secure locking mechanism for a door.
Consider security gates if the library is at risk for burglary through accessible doors. Securing doors through the use of gates is not always architecturally acceptable and could require special treatment to allow exiting in case of fire. Normally such security gates should be considered only for high-crime environments.
The first step in determining the required level of security systems in a library is to conduct a security risk assessment. ASIS International, the leading international organization of security professionals, has published The General Security Risk Assessment Guideline. This publication provides a methodology for identifying and communicating security risks and appropriate solutions.
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Mark McComb is a principal of RLS in San Francisco. He has been the senior technology consultant on many corporate and academic projects including the telecommunications infrastructure upgrade at the University of San Francisco and Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus.
This is an abridged version of an original article written by Mark McComb, with contributions by Edward Dean, AIA, of SMWM. The work was funded through the Libris Design Project by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered in California by the State Librarian.